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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.

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’ve got them all edited, but have only had time to upload three so far.

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.

 

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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.

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Phone case for climbing

Many of my partners are leading with iPhones in their pants pocket. Considering what they cost, I shudder when I see them waving them around with abandon, trying to get the best angle. They do this 6 pitches up in the air…which amounts to a 600 foot drop if something goes wrong.

If the route is too hard I will leave my big camera on the ground or in the car. I have a small camera…but we often bring an iPhone for  emergencies…worst case scenarios. And considering how good they are getting, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon. But my phone is too big for a pants pocket, and it has a stupid glass back…so it’s fragile.

I already have a metal fronted case, but there is only one bungy snap holding the phone in the case, and the glass side is pressed up against my harness, only protected by the inner plastic case. I considered buying a hardish soft shell case with a zipper, which I have for my point and shoot camera, but I don’t like zippers…hate them with a passion actually. Every zipper is on its way to breaking…it’s only a matter of time.

I wondered if I could make a user repairable, bombproof metal iPhone case.  Yes, it turns out I can.

I started with some concept drawings. I hadn’t really thought it through…but figured if I started working all would become clear. I’m also blocked right now, I wiped off my latest painting…so I needed some entertainment on my four day weekend.

concept drawing
concept drawing

Bending the aluminum was hard because it was wider than my vise. I had to use some 1/4″ iron to extend my vise. I was able to make my right angle bends using this jig and a sledge hammer.

hammering the right angle bend
hammering the right angle bend
partially bent right angle
partially bent right angle
bending jig
bending jig
both angles bent
both angles bent

After that I sewed it together on the bottom with 1/8″ bungy cord. I considered using a hinge, but the bungy cord added cushion and avoided the case having to be overly precise regarding thickness of the phone.

My initial plan was to have the biner seal the case, like the way a binier locks down a grigri. But it turns out that a binier has such a wide bottom that the case is not held closed. I found a way to use a threaded bungy to lock the case closed, supplementing the biner. Getting all that sorted out and debugged took most of a day. Then I showed it to Sue and Clint and they both thought it was stupid…overkill was the term they used. While I think they are right, it was still a fun exercise in the art of inventing. The fact that my invention was mis-guided is irrelevant.

One of the problems I solved in my mis-guided train wreck of an invention was that the 0.040″ aluminum  was too flimsy to make a good carabinier hangar. I glued on a double layer of metal there. This is version 1.0 after all. It’s not supposed to be perfect. I’m thinking I can hang this on my rack or harness next to cams and quick draws and it will be fine.

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Skied to Camp Muir

I forgot to write up our Camp Muir trip 3-3-19. Sue and I used to ski up there a couple times a year. But since we had the kids (who are 31 and 34) we’ve been doing short little 4 mile loops around the area near Panorama Point.

The kids have been after us to ski to Muir. For them it’s no big deal. My son loped up there and down in two hours and 38 minutes on Sunday. That doesn’t include a half hour rest at the top.

We made a number of false starts over the last two seasons, getting turned around by bad snow, white outs, wind or low energy. But on the third, Sue, Lisa, Clint, Jamie, Craig and I all headed up toward Muir on a perfect bluebird day. The gate didn’t open until 9 and we started skinning up at 9:45, arriving at Muir at 4PM. Along the way Jamie (Clint’s S.O.) and Sue turned around  above Pan. Craig, Lisa and I continued on above Pan but we soon noticed Clint had  vanished.

Lisa and I were climbing together when Craig caught up. He was surprised that Clint wasn’t with me. I told him that Clint was probably making sure that his mom and girlfriend were OK. These are generally not people you want to ignore, especially on a dangerous mountain. It turned out that Clint had given his mom his ice ax, and persuaded Jamie to take off her snowshoes and descend in boots, using her ax for self arrest.  It’s easier going down steep snow in climbing boots.

Clint caught up with us in an hour and the 4 of us continued up under perfect sunny weather. In case you don’t know us, that means me, my two kids and Craig, Clint’s best friend.

As we approached 8500 feet I started to slow down. The last 500 feet of elevation was really hard. Muir is 5 miles one way, and gains 5000 feet of elevation. I’ve been working out on the stair master but it wasn’t enough. I got to where I had to stop every 100 feet of skinning and rest. And the higher I got, the more I had to rest, with the rests becoming longer.

I began to do the math and wondered if I’d ever make Muir. My heart was doing the pounding thing…but it was just like when we skied up St. Helens last year…so I figured I’d survive if I took enough rests. Time after time I’d be draped over my ski poles trying to catch my breath…waiting until I had the strength to climb up again. I’d look up the hill and there would be the 3 young people, staring down at me, patiently waiting and wondering.

When I finally made it there were broad grins and high fives all the way around. We hung out for a few photos but there was no time to spare. We were the last ones up and needed to get off the mountain. It was 5 miles back to the car and a lot could go wrong: broken bindings, sprained knees, white outs. There is no ski patrol or snowmobile rescue on the mountain.

On the plus side, we are all very experienced at  back country skiing, with decades of time on Rainier. The ski down was fabulous. It was 3 inches of wonderful corn snow slash powder…for miles and miles.

A climbing acquaintance of mine was recently featured in a film. I’ve met her and her sister numerous times at Vantage. She really is that good.

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Floose the crag dog

I finished my drawing of the dog that shared our campspot down in Jtree. This mellow dog got a lot attention from the people sitting around the fire. At one point there was a van of 4 twenty something climber girls sitting around the fire. The darn dog spent the evening walking from one person to the next, soaking up all the attention he could get. His owner Lilly had put a furry leopard hat on his head to keep him warm – it was in the twenties. We were all laughing as the dog simply put up with the hat, and kept coming around for hugs.

My buddy Chad later joked that he wished he could have borrowed the hat from the dog. His plan was to walk around on his hands and knees wearing the leopard hat, see if he could get some similar attention from the ladies. That was one lucky dog.

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Holidays 2018

I’ve not written in a month. On December 12 I finished a my second dog drawing and mailed them both off to my brother. He knew I was into pen and ink and had taken the photographs of his dog and a friends dog with his new Nikon full frame DSLR.

~

I was fully expecting them to think they were bad because so much of my art simply gets shelved. But to my great surprise, he sent me a nice check for the two drawings. Pricing pet drawings is anybodies guess. A quick check on etsy has prices ranging from $28 to $350. Mine take me around 6 hours to draw. Assuming I was drawing well, what would an hourly wage be? The whole artist pricing structure is a mystery.

With school out and commissions in the mail I was a free man. I drove to Jtree in 30 hours. It took me 4 hours to get the 30 miles from Tacoma to Olympia thanks to a massive truck wreck that blocked all lanes of I-5. At 2 AM I slept in a rest area somewhere in southern Oregon, woke up at dawn and drove the rest of the way to Jtree, arriving at 1 AM. I didn’t know it that night, but there is now free BLM land camping down there. I learned about it from a friend who is a travel nurse. He lives in his van and parks it either there or in the hospital parking lot. The BLM camping has been there forever…I just never hunted it down.

Day 2

Hooked up with my friend Richard and Annie. We did a bunch of routes around Hidden Valley including Bousioneer and Hands Off. We loaned our top rope to Lilly and Matia who didn’t want to do the down climb off The Blob. Matia invited me to camp with them since they had an extra parking spot. Making friends at Jtree is the only way to get a camping spot. The campground is permanently full with climbers…but if you make a friend, you are golden.

Day 3

Richard and I met up with L. at Hemingway where we climbed White Lightning 5.7 and Overseer 5.9. It got cold so we diverted to some sunny walls in the afternoon.

Day 4

Richard advised me to take a rest day every 3 days to keep my fingertips healthy.  I painted the West face of Chimney Rock while Lilly drew the same scene in colored pencil.

Day 5

Richard set me up with Annie and we spent the day doing easy stuff like Mikes books and Double Dip. Annie is a lot of fun and works as a Nurse Practitioner.

Day 6

Richard, L. and Todd Gordon picked me up and drove us out to Outer Mongolia. It’s a one hour approach along the boy scout trail. Todd lives in Jtree and is a super nice guy. Later in the trip he invited everyone to his house for New Years. I chose to do the usual bonfire at Hiden Valley but regretted it. There were 3 drunks this year and it sort of sucked the fun out of it. I heard that Todd’s friend John Long was there. Several of my friends were there and got to meet the legendary Largo.

Day 7

I took my campmate Lily over to Echo where we did double dip. I talked her into doing her first lead ever over by the Solarium. She aced it.

Day 8

was another rest day. I painted chimney again, but from the north. The weather had been baking for a week straight by now.

Day 9

Chad arrived while Richard, Annie, L. and I were doing a moonrise picnic on Cyclops. Chad is a great partner and a very funny guy. I’m well known for making easy climbs look hard. Chad makes hard climbs look easy.

The days blur together

The routes blur together after Chad arrived. It got cold for the last two weeks. We still climbed but had to stay on the sunny sides. Here is a brief list:

Flake – me
Orphan – me
Dandelion – Chad
Bousonier – both
Papa Woolsey – both, Chad onsighted it in the dark
Double Cross and Sexy Grandma – both
Chalk up another one – Chad
Damper and Pinched Rib – me and Chad respectively
Stick to what – me
Popes crack & Touch and go – Chad
Heart and sole – Chad
Fisticuffs – me

Breakfast and the shutdown

Chad loaned me some bacon, man that stuff is good! There is something about camping in 15 degree weather that makes me hungry for old fashioned unhealthy fat. After the first week the government shutdown happened. The rangers opened the camping pay box and stopped charging for camping. They basically walked away from the park, leaving the doors wide open and all the park offices shuttered. There were still LEO’s patrolling and responding to rescues and car accidents…but it was a weird time in the park.

On 1-02-19 they shut down the campgrounds, turning the park into a day use area. It seemed dumb because our restrooms and dumpsters were in fine shape. Volunteers (Todd included) were bringing up TP. The only bad thing I saw was cars parked illegally and one tent set up on a trail by hung over New Years eve partiers. There were TV crews up there so I guess there was chaos in other areas of the park, but we didn’t see it.

Last rest day

I was unhappy with this painting of Cyclops. I couldn’t get it off life support and considered wiping it down to blank canvas. But before that happened I decided to throw in some blue. It may be breathing now. Several friends who saw it liked it.

I’m home now and unemployed until April when I may have an opportunity to teach again. Trouble is I need a job right now…bills to pay and all that. I’m going to start looking for work this week. My wife saw me typing all this stuff and asked me who reads it. I told her no one, except maybe me in 5 years when I’m looking back and wondering where the time went. It’s fun to have a record.

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Free Solo Movie

I just saw the Free Solo movie in a theater this weekend. It’s an excellent documentary style movie about what is probably the hardest, most dangerous human achievement ever recorded on film.

I can’t think of a single dangerous activity and or extreme sport that compares to what he did. Extreme base jumping in a squirrel suit comes close, but even that has some safety margin built in. You can fly away from the cliff and pop your chute early. And you are falling through the air, so peak physical strength is not a requirement.

In any other extreme athletic activity you can name, there is always room for a couple small errors. They won’t immediately kill you. What Alex did has zero room for errors. Oh sure, there were easier sections, but on the crux moves, like that boulder problem, he either nailed it or he died. Bouldering is normally done on boulders, literally 15 feet high, max. And there are piles of landing pads underneath you, with friends to help catch a fall. Alex calling that move a boulder move is strictly for Hollywood effect.

I hesitated to even buy the ticket because I knew I was contributing in a small way toward encouraging him to do more free soloing. As they say in the movie, all the best free soloists have died, with maybe a few exceptions. That guy he was talking to named Peter Croft has been soloing for decades and is still alive. Back in the eighties I used to see Peter every few weeks free soloing routes that I couldn’t even climb with a rope. He was a really nice guy, and would talk with average climbers like me and my wife if we had a question about a route.

We also used to see John Bachar at Joshua Tree every year at Xmas. He would be free soloing hard routes like left ski track. He looked so solid I would have felt safe on his back. As they said in the movie, John is dead now, he fell on a route in his late forties, ropeless.

Alex knows all this stuff. He knows all about our tribe of climbers. Some might consider him one of our leaders, though I’m sure he would scoff at the idea.

While I have tremendous respect for his skill and dedication to achieving his goal. I am troubled by the low value he places on living. We all have our ups and downs. But in general, I really like being alive. I hope to live to a ripe old age. Life is endlessly fascinating to me. I feel like my best years may still be ahead of me. This is in regards to my painting, which is just coming into it’s own in my mid sixties.

But regardless of your hobbies, or lack thereof, life always has something interesting coming around the corner. You might not even know what and or who it is…but it will be worth waiting for.

Alex does not seem to see life that way. He is, in the movie at least, so focused on his goal that he is willing to make that ultra dangerous  boulder move, or die trying. And to me, that means (normal) life is just not that fun for Alex. I could walk away from climbing tomorrow and still enjoy my life.

I have my hobbies, my amazing kids and my lovely wife…all of whom are climbers. But we also have other interests. Life is not focused solely on climbing. I love climbing, it’s the best sport in the world! But I’m intimately aware that it could kill me at any time. One small lapse in judgement and I could die. And I climb doing it the “safe” way, with ropes. But there is still plenty of danger. We try to minimize the danger as much as possible. But at a certain point, you have to just say: “These rap anchors held the last party as they rapped down, why would they fail on me?”

Some of the above words may sound like I’m passing judgement on Alex. I don’t mean to do that. We each get one chance at life. I’d like mine to be long, gosh, I keep hoping I’ll have time to finally get it right. Alex is different. He has goals, and he achieves them…so far. I have no right to tell him, or all the other free soloists and base jumpers how to live their life.

I do however feel sad for them. Life is a grand adventure. It stays good for a long time, it’s still good for me, and I’m twice Alex’s age. To be his age and already be willing to give it all up for a silly rock climb that you want to do without a safety rope. It just strikes me as sad.

Addendum:

On a side note, I should mention that I have done some free soloing. Back in my twenties Paul and I used to free solo some short sixes, and even a short 5.9. I was young, bold and dumb back then. I’m not proud of it, but it did happen. Even today, there are approaches to rock climbs that come close to free soloing. It would take too long to get the rope out so we simply “scramble”, knowing we are unlikely to slip. We call it dangerous hiking, or “approach pitches”. But most of the time a fall would not kill us. We’d break some bones…and spend some time in the hospital…so we tread very carefully.

I like to think that the kind of climbing I’ve done for 40 years can be compared to driving a car in bad weather at 60 miles an hour on a two lane road. One twitch of the steering wheel and someone could die. So we try to stay very focused on safe driving…and hope the other guy is doing the same. 37,400 people die in the US every year driving cars.

When climbing with ropes, we normally have layers of safety. If we slip, the rope will catch us. If we bang our head, we have a helmet on. If some of our gear rips out, we have more gear to back it up. If we think the climb has become too hard, or it starts to rain or gets dark, we build an anchor and rappel down. We are never faced with an all or nothing situation: Do this move cleanly or die right now. I value life too highly to get in that situation. I hope Alex gives up free soloing and lives a long happy life. He should have plenty of money now after this movie takes off.


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Easter Overhang and painting leather

C, V and I climbed Easter Overhang Saturday. When I did it 7 years ago with Fletch I led it almost clean and loved it. Fast forward to last weekend and I was a different man. I could barely follow it. I fell out low down on the 5.8 layback, I just couldn’t figure out the move. My feet weren’t sticking in my new Scarpa shoes. Then I ran out of power at the roof move and fell out backwards, landing upside down over 300 feet of exposure. At that point I started grabbing gear and clipping my daisy into the cams to rest. I asked V if I could leave the backpack I was towing to make myself lighter. I was out of gas, and seemed to have forgotten how to climb. I was sort of watching myself flail and thinking: “Dude, you are better than this…snap out of it!”

Finally I got thru the move into the upper chimney. I got stuck there for a while until I realized you have to move out where it’s wider to get some kneebar action. Other than the obvious reason: I’m in my mid sixties now…here are my excuses for climbing so badly.

  • I can’t afford the gym anymore, so I’ve got weak forearms
  • I was climbing in some brand new Scarpa’s, which I’d just finished rebuilding. They felt like wooden shoes and need to be broke in
  • I’ve been focusing on slab climbing due to rain on Castle the last few weekends…I barely got up Classic Crack recently.
  • I’ve been painting more than climbing all summer.
  • I’ve been dieting hard this week, trying to stay below 170 which creeped up on me.
  • I might have got real old, real fast?

Lisa bought me a turban squash. It’s looking pretty good. My main problem with stilllifes is composition. This may be the first time I’ve nailed a good set up. Painting leather is super fun. Brown has always been a problem for me. It’s like green…I just can’t paint it pretty. But this one might be a break through.

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Stadium High painting

For the last 3 days I’ve been painting the morning light at Stadium High School. I had a guy stop his car, lean over and roll down his window this morning: “Hey, I’ve been watching your progress. It gets better and better every day you are here!”

I had a couple with a baby carry some bags of garbage down to my dumpster. They were both very young and handsome. She was totally enraptured by my painting, telling me it was “So Awesome!!” Huh…does an old duffer good to hear that from young people.

Today there were strikers, and I thought they might walk down to the dumpster where I am painting. But they were busy holding signs…working basically, with no time to check out the scenery. The painting is  complicated by the fact that there are a dozen cars in the parking lot. Behind them are some very slender ethereal trees. Both are equally hard to paint. I have a painting from this viewpoint dating to 1997, and I’m tempted to use it for the foreground parking lot. It has no cars, and better landscaping bushes than are currently in place.

I exchanged a couple emails with my old friend George today.  I’ll write more about that later. Climbed at 38 with Lisa and Sue on Thursday. I have a lot of memories of the Far Side. I’ve climbed all of those so many times over the years with a variety of partners, from Dave to Clint, Craig, Marty, Christine, Sue and Lisa. The climbing is fun, and not difficult, starting around 5.6. After climbing the runnout monsters at Darrington, 38 felt very comfortable.

 

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Darrington Climbing

V. and I drove up to Darrington for Labor Day weekend. We climbed Silent Running and Big Tree 1. SR was scary as usual until we warmed up to friction  climbing.  I backed off pitch 2, and even V. had some trouble but got up. By pitch 3 I had warmed up and V. commented that “Mark, you got your mojo back!” After that it was all gravy. On pitch two, it’s helpful to go up the flakes on the right. There are 2 cams up there  before the step left. And after that it’s bolt protected by two close bolts. Pitch 3 was lovely as always, close bolts with a few cams up to a yellow at the top.

Pitch 4 is runnout maybe 50 feet max, but the climbing is 5.4 jugs, so nothing to get worked up about. The chickenheads are delightful, similar to Double Dip at jtree, but easier. I think I could lead the entire thing now. But it’s important to warm up on the routes under the great arch. No reason to head up a 6 pitch route of friction if you are rusty. Under the Boardwalk, left of Cornucopia looks like a super fun 5.9. We scoped it out while rappelling down from Big Tree 1. Looks quite nice for at least 2 pitches. There are a few runs, but only on easy stuff. Bolts are where they are needed.

Darrington is a unique climbing area. It has a distinct learning curve, but once mastered, the joy of flowing effortlessly up steep featureless slab is magical.