A truck on a train

As we get closer to retirement we’ve been planning how that’s going to look. I clearly remember standing in dad’s sunny laundry room when he was about my age now. He was excited about the plans he’d made  concerning his extra health insurance plan. He predicted (correctly as it turned out) that he’d end up in a nursing home, so he bought a special policy that would cover the cost.

Sue and I, on the other hand, have been looking closely at our  stable of vehicles: a 2010 V6 RAV4, a 2004 two wheel drive Tacoma, and a 1991 Corolla. When we load them up with climbing, camping and painting gear there is no room to sleep inside. Our Corolla wagon is even worse. It’s a 370,000 mile beater for around town that’s drive-able but missing fourth gear.

Many folks in the  climbing community are investing in vans that cost up to $200,000. Some news stories speculate that young people are priced out of the housing market and choose to make car payments instead.  We’ve seen  charming young climbing couples who have fixed up Ford and Chevy vans from last century. We saw dozens of them in our last climbing trip to Idaho. There were also a slew of climbers in vans and trucks with pop up campers on the back. There were even a couple sprinters with popup tops added. Do they really need that much space and luxury?

We camped up in BLM land in the RAV4. We had our little 20 year old 4 season  Bibler backpacking tent. It leaks badly, so I staked out a tarp on top of it. It looked like a legit homeless encampment up there. During two nights of our stay our neighbors in the next campspot drank until 2. There was a drunken woman who had a very annoying  laugh. She brayed, kind of like a drunk donkey with a toothache, and it went on and on. There is no campground host to call up there, and no such thing as a quiet hour.

Boondock  camping has been compared to the wild west.  Truth be told, it’s been me and my climbing buddies talking and playing music late into the night on past trips. So this was a bit of karmic payback.

On the second night, Sue slept in the RAV4 (better sound proofing) while I braved it out in the tent, wearing ear plugs and numbing my brain with whiskey. While climbing in the city, we kept seeing all the van life people driving by in their gas hogs. There were literally trains of them going up and down the rough dirt roads.

My 2004 Tacoma runs like a top, but with 270,000 miles it’s a bit gutless going over the passes with a full load. And it’s far too small to sleep in without a lot of extra luggage shuffling to the front seats every morning and evening. Both cars run fine, but neither serves our needs well.

We are getting older and feel like we’ve earned some luxury in our retirement. We spent a few days looking at new trucks and settled on a very rare model of the Tundra. They are extremely hard to find. Our dealer actually gave up on finding one, but I kept looking and eventually discovered a way to make autotrader.com filter by: new, Tundra, within 50 miles, low to high pricing. Hours and hours of searching eventually revealed the truck we wanted at a heavy discount.

I used the vin number to find the same truck at a much higher price on the dealers website. I called them and told them about the low price on autotrader.com. She confirmed the details but said it wasn’t yet available…that it was on a train and expected to be on her lot between the 12th and the 20th. Long story short we placed a deposit on the truck. Once we get the truck in hand we can look into canopies.

I have thought about building my own canopy from fiberglass or poor mans fiberglass (PMF). I just finished a test box to learn the process. I made the food storage box out of 1/8″ plywood…maybe closer to 4mm. PMF is not nearly as rigid as true fiberglass, but it was a good learning experience.

My son and his wife came over last week with some good news, but it’s not my story to tell.

Christine and I climbed at the gym with masks on yesterday. First time since Covid shut everything down. Tod and his family were there running the place. He seemed very happy to see a  couple of us old timers  in there doing our thing. They have a new juggy ten minus in the lead cave for all us rusty has beens to practice on. There is a whole community of climbers in this town who really miss our favorite local hangout.

Marty – Off Belay

I was on a bicycle ride over to Gig Harbor when I got a text from an unknown number.

Hey Buddy, if you haven’t heard;

Marty died yesterday while running.
Word is a heart attack.
He wanted me to help him on a basic climb of yellow jacket. But covid got in the way (cancelled the trip).

This hurts

Mark Webster:

Who is this…Marty’s gone?

Old Friend from 1976:

It’s Lemon
Yes

 

Old friends die. I guess I have to get used to it. Not saying I like it. But life goes on. Just got back from City of Rocks with Sue. My best  climb was  My Private Idaho rated 5.9. It was either too hot or too wet to climb much else. The trad climbs there don’t have anchors directly on top. They are usually 50 feet off to the side. You need to be able to bring your partner up and walk over to the anchor.

We stayed with Jim for  3 nights, then BLM for 3 nights and Pam for one night. Weather was thunderstorms for three days straight. We barely dodged getting caught in a thunderstorm on Wheat Thin. It had just rained and was drying out. I led up, feeling rusty but ok. As Pam was following a huge black cloud was rushing in behind me. We rapped off in light rain, but as soon as we pulled the rope it began to pour. We rushed over to the dry cave as thunder crashed immediately above us.

In the morning Sue and Connie wanted to bail so we drove home in 11 hours. It was an ok 9 day climbing trip. Not great, but fun to get away. Today I have jet lag, though we did go test drive a Tundra. Covid has made the the 8 foot beds  in short supply.

 

Do dreams have pixels?

My mind clicked awake at 2AM last night.  I thought I might be able to get back to sleep by creating a calming scenario…like sheep jumping over a fence. Who’s in charge here anyway? I went into the menu and chose: file > new. The sleepy part of my mind thought I could create a dream with me successfully singing my latest project: “Love Yourself”, by Justin Beiber and Ed Sheeran.

But I got stuck on the file > new  menu. What resolution should the file be? Should it be 1080p? Maybe 4K? So many questions…

We’ve been doing some really complicated projects in class recently. Our project this quarter is to build a portfolio website. It needs to be so good that it can help my students get a job. But the process is sooo complicated that I wrote a book about it,  you can buy it on Amazon.

But back to my dream. I worked on the song after class today…for hours. I must have been driving Sue crazy…obsessively finger picking the chords. Eventually I gave up when Lisa asked us if we wanted to run the stairs at our local stadium. Sue surprised me by challenging me to run them with her. She normally walks up. But there she went, running up, and I followed. We both reached the top…still alive. I couldn’t  believe how strong my 66 year old wife is. I struggled to keep up with her…and the stairs seemed endless.

There were a  dozen people in their teens and twenties running the stairs. Those kids are like electric motors. Definitely wired for 220 Volts on a 20 Amp circuit. They don’t even know the meaning of load.

Annnnd I’m back to the dream.

I discovered this song a couple weeks ago. I think it’s the hardest song I’ve ever learned. I’ve figured out how to play the lead part in the key of C, without a kapo. I still can’t sing and play lead at the same time, but I’ve got the chords and words down.

Here is the tutorial I’m following on how to finger pick the main verses:

I spent many hours studying the song before coming up with these chords. I love the way the words rush along, out of time to the music. It’s the kind of song that gets into your head. I don’t even like the words, they are a bit juvenile. But the melody and rhythm is very compelling, it just works.

F. and I climbed one day over Memorial day weekend. I was so rusty I had to cheat on South Face of Jello. My lack of gym power is making a difference. I got up Midway direct, but barely. I was terrified on the Midway step across move. I’ve had that wired for 30 years.

In other news, I was standing at the sink today and noticed that the soap dispenser bottle was looking particularly fetching. It’s your standard yellow liquid soap for washing dishes…but my artists eye saw it as a painting. I imagined mixing the colors with my palette knife and laying them down thick and juicy on the canvas, gradually building up the shape in thick layers of colored mayonnaise like oil paint.

I didn’t actually paint…but the fact that I thought…even hungered for painting, is in itself promising. I’ve been blocked since November. Doesn’t help that all the parks are closed…though that doesn’t stop my friends who are real working artists. Summer is coming in a month.

I wrote this post a couple weeks ago but have delayed posting it. Since then I’ve been climbing with F. three weekends in a row. Last weekend (yesterday) we went to Private Idaho at Index. I led Senior Citizens and Wild Turkey. He led Battered Sandwich and Istanbul. I might have been able to lead them, but was glad he stepped up to the plate. Battered would have freaked me out at the upper slab. I would have had to hang. I almost fell out on follow. It’s partly my new shoes. I don’t trust them yet. They are very aggressive and seem to have a stiffer than normal insole. I love them for crack…but don’t trust them yet on friction.

SpaceX just put two astronauts in orbit. Those guys are so brave! First US built astronaut launch in 9 years. The technology is much improved over the old space shuttle. I still remember where I was when the first one blew up. I was at JL Darling, working day shift in the bindery where they had a radio reporting on the tragedy.

Overcoming climbing fears

At the end of the day of climbing Chris and I were hiking over the mesa towards the car.

“So, on Saturday and Sunday I was climbing rather weakly with Vitaly. I only did eight and nines, wasn’t inspired at all.

I took two rest days, had salmon for dinner last night, got up at the crack of dawn, drove through 4 hours of traffic and led a couple of tens, including George and Martha, which is a real ten.

What is the magic sauce?”

Chris piped up from 20 feet behind me on the trail:

“Me, I’m the magic sauce. You always climb better with me.”

I was thinking she’d say it was the salmon, or the two rest days. But on reflection, she is at least partly right. We’ve been climbing together 13 years. Other than family, Fletch is the only person I’ve climbed with longer…and only by a couple years. We all met within about a year.

There is a bond, or comfort level that comes with a long time climbing partner. You know you can trust them absolutely. But, I trust Vitaly completely too, he is very safe. We’ve been on some long trips.

It’s probably a mix of everything. The salmon (wild caught Alaska Coho) was the perfect ingredient for stoking up on protein and carbs. The two rest days helped loads. Plus there were those two days of cruising with Vitaly  on stuff like Pony Keg, Vantage Point, Whip Saw, Throbbing Gristle and Crossing the Threshold.

Chris and I started on Air Guitar. It’s really just got one move at the bottom. The rest is a standard mix of normal crack and face climbing. Gets big at the top but it’s very safe and climbable.

She led Bob’s Your Uncle with one fall. I think she’ll get it clean this season…didn’t struggle at all until the last 15 feet. She asked if I wanted to clean/top rope it, but I declined. My shoulder has been acting up, and with only one day, I didn’t want to get pumped following something out of my price range. I’m a long way from being able to lead it, and I had bigger fish to fry.

On to George and Martha. She is right, I do climb better when she belays me. She is so confident in my ability. I could see it in her eyes. She had zero doubt I would fail, and said so. Vitaly does the same thing…but maybe I believe her more? I don’t know.

I was pulling up rope to clip my second piece and let out a howl when my bad shoulder tweaked. Close to the ground, clipping the second piece is very dangerous. You pull up so much slack that your belayer can’t keep you off the deck in a fall. She heard me howl and thought I was coming off. I was fine…my shoulder just doesn’t like lifting things.

G & M looks so steep and hard, but really there are a series of bomber jugs and side pulls most of the way up. When there isn’t one of those, there are some rattly jams that are good enough to place gear from. Plus a series of very nice hand jams to rest on. I used her Luco tape and it was great, not too slick at all. In a few spots, you have to use a red hand jam, but only briefly, and the feet are good there. You move off the red jam to either  a huge jug or great yellow jam…so it’s all very doable. Not to mention the stems off right. Basically if you can stay calm you can ace the first 35 feet and then it’s just like any vantage hand crack.

The #5 at the top isn’t really needed, but it’s very reassuring to have a clear top rope. That last move is a layback off two fist jams. Toe jam below the bulge, pulling on the fists, then step or knee jam above the bulge and reach into the back for the hidden edge on the left. Do sort of a jump step up and stand. Chains are in sight. Love seeing George and Martha! Great people those two.

 

A River Runs Through It, Xmas at Joshua Tree

I drove down to Jtree December 14 arriving in 30 hours to camp in BLM land the next 3 nights. Jim’s friend Mark the SAR ranger saw me walking around solo and brought me a partner named…Cole? We had a great two days  of climbing before I ran into John G who had a parking spot in 30. That is the 3rd time John has hooked me up.

I did the dawn patrol the next morning and lucked out with a couple boulderers who were leaving site 15. After that Chad showed up and we were golden. Dennis showed up and immediately hooked up with Angeli, another solo climber. The three of us climbed together for a couple days while Chad got over a cold. After that we played mix and match as more people showed up including Anni, Liz, Ken & Christine and Cam & Carmen.

Weather stayed very nice until Xmas day when I picked up Sue and Lisa at the airport. It snowed 14″ the next day then stayed cold for 4 days. We took one  or two days off at the hot springs, and spent another day at Indian Cove where it was warm. On the third day after the snow we were able to climb Hands Off and Toe Jam but it was frigid! My 5.9 skills were more like 5.6 with frozen fingers under windy overcast skies.

Our ten year old REI winter tent leaked an inch of water in the bottom. We had to buy a tarp to line the floor to keep our down bags out of the lake/river. There are no flat sandy stake-able tent platforms down there. They are either lake beds or rivers, choose one. Both of our tents were literally in rivers of water melting off the nearby formations. When new that tent had a bathtub floor that worked. Now it’s in the dumpster and we are day dreaming about a Four Wheel pop up camper on a Tundra…though that will have to wait until our ship comes in. The people sleeping-cooking in vans and pickup campers looked perfectly comfortable.

Tents normally work great if they are new on a good campspot in light rain. We’ve never needed anything more. But this extreme weather has changed the game. I was very glad I’d driven down with my studs in the RAV4. We saw numerous people get stuck on the compact snow and ice simply driving around the campground. Two funny guys were driving around the snowed in roads of the campground in a jeep towing  a kayak. He was balancing with his paddle on the careening kayak as the whole campground cheered. I’d look up from cooking my eggs and there he’d go around again.

 

Extraordinary cover band

If you’ve not heard these people, set aside a couple hours, you’re in for a treat:

George and Martha at Vantage

George and Martha is a 10a route at Vantage with which I have a love hate relationship. The bottom 40 feet is full throated 10a climbing and if you are rusty it’s going to be very much in your face. Craig belayed me on it this weekend and I surprised myself.

The bottom 20 feet is a series of fairly small ladder steps that protect easily. Then there is a very welcome double hand jam with good feet.

From there you are looking up at unfriendly red and green hand jams for another 20 feet. There are a couple good small ledges on the left, and some of the rattly green jams can be grabbed on the top of their  blocks for better grip. It’s just solid enough to place gear and keep moving. It helps to have your hands as skinny as possible (use tape) so you can get deeper into the bad jams.

Some of the moves are very barn door-ish. You must lean left or right to be able to move up and maintain the hold. As with most tens, you have to embrace the fall. By that I mean you have to place plenty of good gear and trust it’s ability to catch a fall as you move up through insecure territory.

The jams get better and better the higher you go and at about 40 feet there are awesome yellow hand jams. The top crux takes just one #4 and #5 with a yellow beyond. It’s a matter of doing a layback off a double fist jam while walking the feet up the crack high enough to get a knee or hip above the bulge. Then you can grab a ledge up to the right of the offwidth section and the climbing gets easier.

I did it well, and I was climbing with my bad homemade Frankenstein shoes. I definitely let out a whoop at the top. After we finished we watched John Plotz do a very clean lead of Red M&M’s. I’ve never seen that led cleanly before.

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.

Sunset concert at Vantage

Fletch and I drove to Vantage Wednesday night and stayed through Saturday morning. I had just been there on Tuesday with Christine and Emily where I led Steel Grill cleanly and followed Bob’s Your Uncle, with one fall.

Fletch and I climbed Pony Keg, Air Guitar, George & Martha, Seven Virgins and Ride Em’ Cowboy. It got so hot we almost fell asleep resting in the chimney after the Virgins route. I walked out into the broiling sun to switch out my climbing shoes for boots but quickly retreated back to the cool shade of the chimney where Fletch and his dog Winston were zoning off.

I brought my second 40 oz water bottle back to the shade. As I took a sip of the almost empty bottle Fletch asked if he could have some,  that he was out of water. He’d brought one quart for both him and the dog.

“Dude, I depend on you to be organized and have extra water!” I joked. Later we hiked out dry through the sage scented air, enjoying the endless views of the mesas and cliffs surrounding Vantage. The weekenders had begun to show up, it being Friday night and our neighbor was running her minivan to power an electric pump for her 10 inch queen sized air mattress.

She had 3 kids who were climbing at the Feathers with her brother, plus a little girl who was still wearing her homemade swami harness made from 1 inch tubular. The full size standing room tent and air mattress made it clear she wasn’t a regular climber. We don’t bother with all those luxuries. Still it’s always great to see people enjoying the outdoors though the droning of the air mattress pump was annoying.

We were surprised to see her suddenly in our campsite holding out two cold beers.

“Hey guys, sorry about my dog and the dumb air pump. Here’s a couple beers for your trouble.”

“Oh, jeez, you didn’t have to do that, but thanks a lot, we forgot to bring beer, this will help a lot!” we said.

She was super friendly and a very fit young mom.  She hung out with us for a while, talking climbing and where we were all from.

“Don’t worry too much about the noise,” I said, pointing at our two guitars, “We’ll be making some noise of our own after dinner. But don’t worry, we won’t play late.”

“Oh, no worries, we’re not going to bed early, we’ve got teenagers.”

Fletch and I had forgot to pack a can opener so I had to jab my can of beans with a bendy knife and saw it open. By the time I’d done that to my tuna and black beans I was so hungry I decided to eat them cold. As Fletch said “Why heat them up? They don’t taste any better and it’s more dishes to wash.”

As we sat there in the fading light, eating dinner out of our cans I got out a small brick of greasy sun warmed goat cheese. Every couple bites of tuna and beans I took a bite off the cheese. Fletch noticed my eating process and commented that we were really living the dirt bag life. We didn’t  have camp chairs, just sitting on boulders strewn around the fire pit.

Fletch the (fire whisperer) soon had a nice fire crackling and we broke out our guitars. We started with a couple songs on which I could add harmonica: “To make you feel my love” (Adele & Dylan) and “Sweet Carolina” (Ryan Adams).

As we finished Carolina, we heard applause and saw 5 of our neighbors lined up nearby, watching us play and soaking in the vivid red sunset over the distant hills above the Columbia River. We’ve worked hard over the last 12 years refining and polishing our sound. We’re far from great musicians, but for a couple of old climbers we have a decent sound.

The brother walked over with his teenage son: “That was awesome guys, I love that song! We really hit the jackpot with this camp spot. Spectacular sunset and live music!”

We thanked him and continued through our usual routine, playing all our favorites as the evening light faded into darkness lit only by our little fire and headlamps. Fletch had seen Elton John at the Tacoma Dome two nights before so of course we played Your Song & Goodbye Norma Jean. We knocked off when the whiskey ran out around 8. I’d only brought a little hip flask…just enough to warm the belly.

We talked quietly for a while after that, discussing all the usual topics climbers yarn about: the meaning of life, hard climbing moves, future trips, etc. Soon the stars were out in all their glory, lighting the way for a half moon.

I crawled into my old Bibler mountaineering tent feeling  thankful for good friends and amazing hobbies. At 65, I know I can’t keep climbing forever. There is an end game coming where my body will start objecting to pulling hard on 5.10 crack climbs. It seems to take a little longer each year to warm up.

I’ve spent 5 days drawing cows with pen and ink. I’ll post them later. It’s more fun to show my drawings in person. When my friends see them online first, their reactions are  muted on seeing them live.  They’ll say: “Oh, yeah, I saw that online, very nice.”

I love that expression of wonder in peoples faces when they see my artwork for the first time live and in person…especially the good stuff. I’ll never sell a cow drawing, but the experience of watching it come to life under my hands is worth all the trouble. There are moments with a great drawing or painting where I can step outside myself and simply stare in wonder. This latest pen drawing might be my best work yet.

 

Darrington for 3 days

Hooked up with my old friend James for a great trip to Darrington. We left Wednesday at 2 and returned Saturday at 6pm. We did three new routes:

  • Urban Bypass 10b, 4 pitches on Green Giant Buttress, 3 hour approach up a vine maple avalanche slope, no trail for most of it, then 4 pitches of slab, 50 foot runnouts on the easy stuff.
  • Shake Rattle and Roll  on 3 o’clock Rock, 4 or 5 pitches of super fun and casual 5.8 mostly bolts (rack of singles up to blue). Runout up to 20 feet.
  • Till Daylight, a lovely 5.8 expedition starting right of the big arch, then veering left above it. All shiny new bolts, singles up to yellow, doubles on purple, amazing chicken head climbing for days. A couple 20 foot runs, but I never slipped. Calmness and/or careful calculation is a virtue.

I made this video on my iPhone XS using the google photos app. It allows you to choose which photos and edit how much of the 3 seconds of video in each live photo will be used in the final edit.

Here are some of the original high res photos. Google Photos is good and convenient, but I’ve found a better, quicker  way to get photos off my iPhone. I’m using the PNY duo link. No waiting for google photos to upload to the cloud. Transfer original photos from phone to flash drive, then from flash to laptop. I have to convert them from *.HEIC to jpg before uploading them to WordPress.

 

4 days in late August

Thursday Chris and I climbed all 7 pitches of Silent Running at Darrington. We left Tacoma at 6:30, hiked up the one hour approach and got on the rock around 11. She led pitch 1 and I finally mastered the runnout moves on pitch 2. The mid section has some blank, runnout 5.8 friction. It’s about 20 or 30 feet and I’ve backed off it before. This time I climbed the flake section on the right to a high black alien. Traversing from there felt 5.10 so I down climbed until I could step left onto the runnout section, more in line with the last bolts. From there I saw a pattern of very slight black friction dykes. With the top rope to the alien, it was easy to stay calm as I motored up to the next protection. I was glad she reminded me that if it feels like 5.10, it probably is, meaning I was off route.

She swung through onto the crux 5.9+ third pitch and did fine. About 80 feet up I heard her comment: “Uh oh, the bolts are getting close, it must be getting hard again!”

Pitches 4 and 5 were either easy and fun, or relatively well bolted. Following was harder than leading because we were dragging the 9.8 rap line. We should have put it in a back pack, with a pint of water. Chris could have used a long sleeve shirt. It goes into shade at 3: hence the name, 3 o’clock rock.

I sailed up pitch 6, slowing down at the usual places and Chris swung thru to pitch 7, leading it with one tiny slip, which I didn’t even feel. My feet were killing me following pitch 7, though I did it cleanly, no slips in 7 pitches, which amazed me. The rap down was long and tiring. We started out sharp, but by the 4th rap neither of us could remember which rope to pull. I’d get to the anchor where I needed to thread and holler up at Chris: “Which rope are we pulling, red or blue?” She was there, and could tell me for sure…since I’d forgotten. It was a long, but very fun day with one of my favorite climbing partners. Good, reliable and skilled climbing partners are hard to find. Mike is a lucky man.

I drove home, then met Fletch at his house at 7:30 AM to drive to Careno. I led two pitches on his 5.9 parkway route, then he worked on his new route, which may get named: “Mad dogs and Englishmen”. Saturday I led South Face of Jello, Short and Sassy and Angel. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed Angel clean, but it’s always interesting.

Fletch and I jammed two nights in a row. Ken and his wife, plus two random English dudes joined us the second night. It was fun having a crowd for our out of tune music. Sunday I got pitch 3 of Bale Kramer clean. Key seems to be committing to the under cling with the right hand, plus bracing toes in the crack off the the right. Once you do that you can reach out and sink the excellent hand jam.

Then it’s a series of jams up to the thin fingers section where a black alien goes in. Then you pull on the manky hand jam to reach past up to the first sinker finger lock. Sink in a purple and motor up to the hand jam, which takes a great red. There are tiny left foot crimpers and smears which helps keep the weight off the hands.