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.
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.
Vitaliy and I went to Squamish over the weekend. We climbed at Octopus Garden where I led the nine on the right. I wasn’t as calm as I’ve been in the past, but it was a clean lead. We also did Vector. Two fives would be nice up there, or one plus the green big bro. It’s only 5.8 but the #five section goes on for 20 feet and it’s very insecure.
We also climbed Exasperator. He led the first pitch. When I arrived at the belay we both looked at the second pitch and knew we couldn’t do it clean. The jams are too small for my big fingers. We talked about bailing and driving home early…maybe doing some 5.9 nearby. But then I got to thinking that I could just climb up a few cams and bail. I’m good at down climbing. I could just pull the cams and climb backwards to the belay station. No harm no foul.
So I started up, placed a couple cams and had Vitaliy. Taking means he locks off the belay device and holds my body weight as I rest on the cam. It’s safer than falling because there is no acceleration. I place a cam, pull up the slack rope and wait for him to hold me. It’s called hangdogging. I rarely do it because I prefer climbing stuff where I don’t need to “cheat”. Cheating is defined as using the rope to get up the climb….it’s also called aid climbing. While I never pulled on a cam, I definitely rested on cams while placing better gear.
As I was hanging up there resting and feeling bad about the sh*t show, some climbers down below complimented me on a “putting up a good fight”. Later, after watching several other climbers I realized very few people get that pitch clean. And no one climbed it with white hair. I’d love to go back now. I’m sure I could do it with much fewer hangs. It’s basically a series of bad jams followed by good jams, and then repeat, every 8 feet.
In my spare time in the evenings I’ve been trying to finish some paintings I did at the Grand Canyon on vacation back in June. The paintings were ok, but needed a lot of TLC. I almost have one of them done. The colors of the canyon walls 8 miles away are very difficult to paint. I don’t think I’ve ever had to be so precise in mixing colors, which means it’s great practice.
I’m looking out the window of our cozy little house, thinking about the last two weeks. Neither Sue nor I had ever been to the Grand Canyon, Zion, or Bryce so we were excited to get out of town. We drove to Boise first to stay a night with my niece Pam. She is in her second year of residency as a GP, but she’s also one of my climbing partners.
She was able to get a half day off and we climbed at the Black Canyon just outside of Boise. It is a cheesy little cliff similar to Vantage but the climbing was real, and we both got a little gripped.
The drive down to Zion was not fun at all…simply something you have to grin and bare. I love to listen to free talking books from the library while I put the miles behind me. We pulled into our first of several free campspots thanks to this cool website. I don’t have any classes this summer, or income, so avoiding unnecessary expenses is a priority. I’m thinking I may apply for unemployment…heck I might even find a job. I have no desire to have the summer off, though the weather is good for painting.
We had to get on a shuttle to get in to Zion. Cars are not allowed in peak season. It’s $20 a person to walk into Zion from the shuttle. We were thankful to have our $10 lifetime senior passes. After a 60 minute wait we got on a shuttle and then got off at the first pretty viewpoint. I hiked off trail up to a quiet spot and started the first of many bad paintings this trip. It was simply too hot to stand in the sun and paint…not too mention the jet-lag from the long drive. My new oil based gesso grounds allows me to easily wipe back down to clear white “canvas” (board). I packed up, found Sue and hit the road for the Grand Canyon…glad to put over hot, over crowded Zion in the rear window.
We pulled into our free Grand Canyon campsite at 4AM dead tired. In the morning we drove into the park and man was it confusing. There are looping roads circling everywhere when you get close to the South rim by Grand Canyon village. They gave us a map but it was so confusing I had to use my phones GPS to get anywhere. We stumbled on free parking near one of the trails and used that for the next week.
I did another bad painting out over the canyon that morning: Rim Trail, pictured above. I had a young guy from Kansas tell me I was the best artist he’d ever seen. Clearly they don’t have many painters in Kansas. It looked ok after the first morning and I should have left it alone. But alas, I worked on it a second day and ruined it. And there went another painting wiped down to white.
My track record was not looking good so we decided to combine a hike with the painting. Oxygen often makes me paint better. We did a dawn start and joined the hoards hiking down the Bright Angel trail. Two miles down I found a wide spot in the switchbacks where I could set up and be clear of the stream of hikers and tourists on mule trains.
Tourists pay $800 for a two night round trip ride on a mule down the canyon. I guess if you are rich it might be worth it. My daughter did the 16 mile hike on foot in a day a few years ago, but that was in the Spring, not early July. I was tempted to try the hike myself, but Sue wasn’t buying it. We would have had to bivy, and hike back up at night to avoid the heat.
The painting I did on the Bright Angel trail is rough, but it has potential for refinement in the studio. It was fun to feel it start to breath on it’s own. Lots of people liked it, commenting on it’s beauty, and that is usually a good sign. Those tourists are not dumb.
I got into a routine where I would do morning and afternoon paintings. After about 3 days of that, where the morning painting would go well, and the afternoon painting would turn into a ‘wipe off’, I realized I could do one or the other, but not both. It was simply too hot to work all day in the blazing sun. Temperatures ranged from 90 to over 100.
The evening light was supremely pretty out across the canyon, but after 4 failures I realized I could not paint it. I could draw the shapes, but I couldn’t figure out the color of the grass. Anything that isn’t vertical in the Grand Canyon is covered in grass. It looks like a hillside in Eastern Washington. It’s a boring yellow green that fades to gray in the distance, and turns slightly blue depending on the time of day.
The shadows of the red cliffs were also troubling, and don’t even get me started on tree covered slopes of grass. My trees look like pasted on cucumbers.
I had some moderate success on the South Kaibab Trail, which we hiked down for a mile, loosing 1000 feet of elevation. The viewpoint where I stood was a 4th class ledge, and I wished I’d brought some cams with which to anchor myself. This didn’t stop the crazy instagram tourists from jumping up and down on the edge of the 300 foot cliff next to my easel. “Do it again, and try to click your heels together!” And they wonder why I wear headphones.
Our last hike was the Deception Trail. It is an unmaintained trail, which means it’s too hard and dangerous for mules. They can’t make money on the trail, so they abandon it. People can pick their way down it, if you don’t mind crumbling wooden bridges over 70 foot drops. I don’t have a picture of that painting yet. I had switched over to monotone painting by then.
The impossibly hard color of the canyon had simply wore me down. I figured I’d get the values right, and figure out color at home from my imagination. On a rest day we saw some paintings for sale by Serena Supplee which gave me some great ideas.
There is quite a cast of characters driving the Grand Canyon shuttle buses. One guy went on and on about how he’d hit and dragged a traffic cone for 10 minutes before it rolled out from under his bus. It was the highlight of his day. The buses drive East and West along the South Rim, sometimes only twenty feet from a 2000 foot drop, with no guardrail. One driver was calmly explaining to us that only certain stops allowed you to catch rides both East and West. “And if you have a driver tell you he is going North, get off the bus, immediately!”
After our rest day following our 3 canyon hikes I finally took the bus all the way out to Hermit’s Rest (8 miles) and set up to paint the afternoon light. As I was framing my view in my little aluminum viewfinder I noticed a really cool twisted tree that looked more fun than the canyon.
The reason trees were even on my radar was that Sue had started sketching too, and she had been working on trees. I decided that it was a good candidate for a monotone and set to work.
I do these by rubbing the board down with Transparent Oxide Brown and Genuine Rectified Turpentine. This gives the ‘canvas’ a lovely brown tone that is quite malleable. Then I lift out the highlights with a brush wetted with Gamsol (Odorless Mineral Spirits). I push and pull cool and warm colors by using Transparent Oxide Brown and Red. Richard Schmid calls them TOB and TOR. For the darkest colors I used just a touch of Cobalt or Ultramarine Blue.
Something clicked that day with the twisted pine tree. I have no idea why, but suddenly I was able to see, and paint exactly what I saw. I actually turned to Sue who was napping nearby and said: “Who is this guy, and what has he done with Mark?” I don’t think I’ve ever painted that well in my entire life. Sadly, I came back the next day to work on it again in the same light and may have ruined it. I have yet to take it out of the wet painting carrier box since adding the upper branches and leaves.
After 10 days we’d had enough of the heat and headed North. We were thinking the North Rim, but halfway there I got tired of driving and saw a sign that read: “30 miles to Bryce Canyon”. We found a great free camping spot right outside the entrance and crashed at dawn.
After a few hours of sleep we drove to Bryce Point and hiked down a mile to a nice view where I did a another monotone. I thought I’d be too tired to paint but once again something clicked. A lot of hikers liked it, so it might be good. I did another one the next day, but it wasn’t as successful. I swear the shadows on those hoodoo towers move as fast as breaking waves at the ocean.
Hiking up to the rim at Bryce’s Sunset Point I finally hit the wall, spent, exhausted and done. My 45 pound pack felt like it weighed 200 pounds. I may have under hydrated. I had plenty of water, but forgot to drink it. Once we got to the car I had to nap all afternoon and went to bed without dinner. I think it was a touch of heat exhaustion.
Whenever I was painting Sue would sit in the shade…while I baked in the 100 degree sunshine at my easel. She has always been the smarter hiker in the family.
We left after that and drove north to the City of Rocks for some climbing. On the second day Pam joined us, she had the 4th off and the City is only 3 hours from Boise. Sue tries to take it easy climbing, but with Pam there we could hit the hard stuff. We did Wheat Thin, Columbia Crack, Intruding Dyke and Mystery Achievement at the Breadloaves.
Sue was burned out on living for 16 days out of a little mountaineering tent and talked me into driving home. I was just getting warmed up at climbing and didn’t want to leave, however, the tent zipper was blown, bugs were getting inside, and I have 8 plein air paintings waiting for some TLC. Climbing feels like playing hooky when I’m actually trying to get serious about learning to paint.
Saw Ted today. We met in the 6th grade and have stayed friends ever since. Not counting my cousins, he is my oldest friend. He brought his daughter and we had a classic adventure getting lost at Point Defiance. We walked down to Owens Beach, then West along the water until we ran out of time. We saw a trail heading up the steep bank and started up. The trail petered out and we were lost. Not really lost…though that depends on how you define it. But it got interesting as we picked our way though the forest until a road showed up.
We are going to get together in a couple weeks to jam. We started playing together in high school when 4 of us started a garage band. I was the harp player and Ted played base. We had a rhythm, lead guitarist and a drummer. The drummer had a real job so he was in charge of renting the rehearsal garage. I remember pedaling my bicycle to band practice. We only played a few gigs, but it was lots of fun playing and practicing.
Later Ted and Bob formed a much better band that won a competition in Seattle. They toured Eastern Europe on a fully funded one month concert tour. We all thought they were on their way to something big…but I think they broke up not long after that. We continued jamming for a decade after high school, but then drifted apart as old friends do. There were a few meetings over the decades that followed but they got farther and farther apart. Anyway it was awesome to see my old buddy again and I hope we play some live music soon.
I stumbled across a Tedx talk online about a guy who says social media is bad for your career. This runs counter to current thinking, but his speech was so compelling I decided to take a break from Facebook and Instagram for a while. It’s only been two days but I like it already.
His main point was that social media is distracting and keeps you from doing what he calls: “Deep Work”. That is defined as long periods, like 4 or more hours where you are completely focused on one task. For a programmer it might be writing complex code. For a writer it would mean writing non-stop for hours with no distraction. For me as an artist, it means painting steadily for hours without any distraction…at all.
He also argues that a commonly held social media theory is a myth. The theory is that being on social media widens your networking audience and makes you more employable. He feels that getting off social media will make us much more marketable because we will be able to do deep work. And that deep work is so rare that it will overcome our lack of social media presence and bring employers. It makes sense. Multi tasking is a dog that won’t hunt. Deep work is something I’ve always loved. Running a printing press was all about deep work. We’d commonly work 12 hours or longer. Climbing is all about deep work and total focus. I never take my cell phone climbing, and I am happier for it.
Speaking of climbing, V. and I spent 3 days at Squish and discovered a new crag called the Papoose. I’d been there with Bud Miller decades ago but never went back after a runnout scare, until last weekend. There are two lovely 5.9 splitters at the base that we both on-sighted. They were both exceptional climbs and I’m so glad we decided to go exploring on a new crag.
We left Friday at 5PM. Arrived Saturday at Sand Creek Campground in Moab at 4PM. Easily got a site in the huge campground for $15 a night. Bought 3 nights planning on a Tuesday AM departure.
Hiked in light snow at Arches Sunday. Monday I painted Delicate Arch twice, morning and afternoon light. We’d planned on hiking the first half of the trip, then climbing the last few days. But the weather looked to be turning bad Thursday Friday. I was worried that if we hiked until Tuesday, we might only get one day of climbing on Wednesday, then the rain would come in. I texted Chad that he might want to come down a day early. Monday evening Chad showed up and we drove down to Indian Creek Tuesday morning where we did Generic Crack, Binou’s Crack and Chocolate Corner before camping at Super Bowl.
Wednesday we hiked up to Supercrack buttress, which is the same parking lot as Donnelly and did Twin Cracks 5.8+, Incredible Hand Crack 5.10 (12 yellows, 2 reds and a blue) and No Name (left of Twin Cracks) 5.10. Chad did a heck of a job getting half way up No Name before running out of steam. He has smaller hands, so it was miles of steeple jams, which, as he said: “Two moves takes everything I have.”
I was fresh from belaying, so I took over the lead and hung dog my way to the anchors. We used to call that yo yoing back in the day. It took 11 blues, 3 reds and maybe 8 yellows? Everything we did needs just one 60 to get off, as the anchors seem to be bolted right at 30 meters. I suspect the routes went in before 70’s became popular.Generic may be the exception at a little longer…but I’m not sure.
I think one would need at least 2 weeks down there to build up the muscle power to climb those cleanly. Or maybe it is something I need to do before going down. The guys I saw who were sending those hand cracks cleanly all had arms twice as thick as mine. At the very least I need to hit the pull ups hard, and make a couple trips up to Vertical World and run laps on the hand crack. Hand power is ultra critical down there.
Thursday we needed a rest day so we climbed the easier South Six Shooter. The approach was thought provokingly dangerous, and I backed off the 5.6 mantel move. I had a ton of rope drag, the wind was howling, and it didn’t feel like a rest day move. Plus the if you blew the mantel move you would very likely break something as the gear was below your feet, and there were ledges to hit. Getting injured on top of a mountain with a one hour approach is just plain stupid.
Chad owed me a finish from No Name, so he stepped up to the plate and sent the mantle nicely. Because it was a rest day, I also had trouble with a rounded 5.7 crack lower down on the second pitch. I hung 3 times. I think I was just tired. The creek is burly.
The summit views were lovely…climbing mountains is satisfying. We did the rap in two raps with our 60. One short one down to the chains 50 feet below the summit, and another 30 meter rap to the ground, passing the ugly slung block station.
Alex ran up while we were climbing but got there too late to join us, so he walked Sue down to the car. She was getting cold waiting. When we got down to the car I was ready to get serious about my rest day. But Alex was there…and I didn’t want to say no. When he offered to carry the pig up to the crag I caved and abandoned any thoughts of a rest day. We hiked up and Alex led Supercrack. It took all 11 blues, plus 6 yellows. I would have brought a 5 for the last move to the chains, had I led it. It was Alex’s first creek lead, so he hung a lot but got up.
I hung twice on follow. The jams were great hands for my huge mitts. Plus I was wearing Ocuns over tape to be fatter. I’m not sure I will ever lead it though because the 10C start crack is super awkward. It starts good, then flares to a rounded #5 with a block in the way. You might be able to get a half inch cam in the block. Other than that I’m sure I could hang dog my way up the main crack. It’s a spectacular crack. Love to get some photos from either the anchors or the tower off right. It did have anchors for safely taking pictures of your leader.
Thursday night it poured, which matched the forecast from Monday. We drove up to Moab where I painted Double Arch while Sue did another Arches hike to Landscape Arch and beyond. And then the epic drive home. Left at 6PM, got home at 2PM Saturday.
I studied Sunday so I could play hooky with Christine on Monday at Vantage. Chris was super strong and led Sinsemilla 10c and George and Martha cleanly. I was very rusty after 6 weeks of not climbing. I can’t afford the climbing gym so my arms have become weak. As I said after lowering down from hanging on Pony Keg: “That was not the climber who came back from Joshua Tree on January 2!”
Chris: “I know, I wanted to meet that guy.”
Me: “He is gone, and I wonder if he ever really existed. Perhaps that was just a fairytale from some bizarre alternate universe.”
Such is my life as a 64 year old rock climber. It’s a sport for young people. Trying to do it at my advanced age of decrepitude requires a lot more work than it does for young people. I do the work, and happily, but it requires climbing every weekend, or 5 days straight, whichever comes first.
So here is my latest “homework”. I built a barebones image gallery switcher. It’s too boring to show the working example in an iframe. But this is the code that makes it work, which is the fun part for me. On my main website, I use a awesome image gallery function called Photoswipe. You can see it here.
Whoever built that had the job that I want.
I’ve had a PETZL Sirocco helmet for a year and I like it a lot. But my buckle just broke during my yearly Christmas trip to Joshua Tree. Before the Sirocco I had been wearing a 1993 Joe Brown helmet. It blew a rivet, so this Sirocco looked very attractive. It’s super light, and as long as I stuff something inside it (to protect it from crushing), I can pack my pack normally and it survived until last week. The buckle Petzl uses is very fragile. The plastic snap tabs are ultra small. There is a magnet inside the buckle that helps pull it closed. Unfortunately, the magnet also attracts iron ore, of which there is a lot in Jtree. I was constantly having to scrape and blow out the sand stuck to the magnet before it would snap.
Finally, up on the “Heart of Darkness” route, one side of the buckle broke completely. I had to borrow a helmet that day. When I got back to camp I replaced the buckle with one I bought at the jtree climbing store. To get the old buckles off, I shaved down the plastic with a razor knife until I could slide the nylon out of the old buckles. Then I prusiked on the new buckle, extended the strap with some tubular nylon using a water knot and had a helmet again. The repair job is stronger than the original. Here are the photos:
After 34 years we decided to sell the old family home. We were tired of the drive and wanted to be closer to our jobs, and the kids. Houses are more expensive in Tacoma, but dad left us some money, and we were able to take what we got for our house, plus some of dad’s money and get a new place. I only looked for one day, and it was the seventh house we looked at.
I’ve never spent this much money on anything and was way out of my comfort zone. I probably never would have moved but one of my climbing friends became a realtor 6 months ago. She told me at guitarbcue in June, and I thought: why not? Her husband is also a climbing friend, and I have great respect for his time driving a boomer. Those brave people keep our country safe. She did a great job for a new realtor. I figured she would, as she is, like me, an artist, a musician, and a climber, plus a working mom with two young kids. You can’t do all that stuff well without being very smart.
So now I’m spending the first night in our new house. We decided to tear out the rugs because there is beautiful original wood flooring under the living room rug. I have to rent a sander to polish the floor, then stain it. Then we hope to move in, officially, this weekend.
I climbed at Index Sunday but I was not feeling bold. I think the stress of moving has worn me down. My shoulders feel terrible. I can climb fine, but simple things like lifting my hand to the top of the steering wheel can cause really bad pain. I’m hoping it will go away.
I did a great painting of the Sandman tugboat in Olympia a couple weeks ago, I will post pictures later.