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Silent Running at Darrington

silent running darrington
silent running darrington

I’ve been hearing about a famous route at Darrington for decades. It is called Silent Running and it’s rated 5.9. I’ve avoided it up until now because I heard it was runnout. After leading the two crux pitches, and following 3 of the others, I have a much better understanding of it. Yes, after one of the nicely bolted 5.9 cruxes, it does have a 40 foot runnout. But if you go left instead of following the seam there are a decent number of normal holds. And if you led the 9 section you won’t fall on the runnout 5.7. And that is the only dangerous section.

silent running darrington
silent running darrington

The true cruxes are beautifully bolted with nice new shiny 3/8″ inch stainless steel. The bolting was done by our new friend David, and his friend Matt. David followed me and Aaron up the climb, and even led a few of the pitches. We were moving fast with simul belaying. We were in high spirits.

The climbing was as good as it gets. The moves seemed impossibly hard. There were times when I didn’t have a plan at all. I simply placed my feet on imaginary holds and kept moving up.

My fingers were pretty much useless. There was nothing to grab at all.  You could step high, you could step low, you could move right or left, none of it mattered. The only plan was to keep moving up.

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A new leader

L. decided to start leading this last Memorial day weekend. Her first lead was up above Penny Lane where she led  a short 5.8 crack left of the long 5.8, to the right of Split B. Next she led a 5.6 down to the right of Neat and Cool.

Next morning she led Laughing Crack. It is a long and lovely 5.7 finger crack on a leaning over slab.

Twenty feet up she realized she wasn’t in the mood and started complaining about how her gear was bad. I had been teaching her what a good cam looked like for the last couple days. We had been placing and replacing cams on the ground while I explained the correct lobe angles.

So there she was, 20 feet up up the cliff. It was difficult to climb back down. She was like the proverbial cat stuck in the tree. It’s easy to climb up, not so easy to come down. She had pretty much mastered cleaning anchors…I’d taught her that 6 times over the previous two days. Her thinking was that she could simply keep going up to the good steel anchor bolts and lower off.

Instead of coming down, which would have been relatively safe, she placed more gear, swore it sucked and climbed higher. At about 60 feet up she was still cursing her gear but by that point her hands were sweating in the 84 degree heat. She was frazzled, out of power, and in panic mode. Sue and I were sweating bullets and thinking worst case scenarios.

The rock always wins when you head up a cliff under prepared. She peeled off and took a  whipper. As she fell, I had enough time to think that this might be the last time I ever saw her in one piece. My wife started crying. However, I’ve caught a lot of falls over the decades and simply locked off my GriGri + belay device, waiting for a piece to stop her. A Metolius yellow 4 cam TCU caught her fall.

She had slid down on her hip, which wouldn’t have been bad. But because she was wearing running shorts she got an ugly road rash. We call that kind of fall a “cheese grater”. More cursing ensued, but she eventually calmed down. After realizing she was perfectly safe, and the gear was good, she got back on the lead and finished out the route. She threaded the anchor and lowered down.

When I cleaned the route, I was surprised to see that 90 percent of her cams were perfectly placed. She had mastered the art of cam placements in the nick of time. I think her trash talk about their quality was simply her tendency toward perfectionism…which she got from me.

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Life without Facebook

My last post was written shortly after I got off Facebook. It’s been a month now. I get on about once a day, but only toward the end of the week when I’m communicating with climbing partners. When I’m on it’s just to check messenger, I never look at pictures anymore, or scroll down to look at the feeds of my virtual friends.

I have another friend who did the exact same thing. His work got busy, and he dumped Facebook. I stopped off after work to see him today. It was so refreshing to communicate with a real friend face to face. We used to talk on facebook, or via messenger, or phone. But face to face feels so right.

His girlfriend was there for part of the time and we talked about how humans evolved to need face to face communication. We are still wired that way. It’s not like we’ve evolved past it. Communicating on facebook over pictures, and status updates seems sort of like real life, but it pales in comparison to the real thing.

We spend all those hours peering at these little glass screens, typing cute remarks about photos or politics. And it feels like human communication…but really all you are doing is typing while starting at glass. You don’t get to hear their voices, smell their scent, see the real colors of their eyes, and there expressions as you talk. At the end of the day, it doesn’t work for me. I prefer to have a few real friends, who actually like me enough to see me in person, than 100 facebook ghosts seen on a glass screen.

Despite my avoidance of facebook, I do like to write, mostly to clear my head, but also as a way to have a record of what I was doing, long after I forget about the little day to day details.

I went to Vantage and met Dave D, Roy, JoJo, Ingrid, Vlad and Des. Dave, Roy and I climbed all the moderate cracks, including Pony Keg, Air Guitar, Crossing the threshold, Whipsaw and Tangled up in Blue. I led everything but crossing. Dave was warming up after some time off, and Roy is still learning crack climbing. Sunday I led Steel Grill after following Ride ’em cowboy. Steel Grill wore me out. I had to pull on a cam at the crux. After that I was weak as a puppy. But it was a super fun weekend. At one point I was sitting on the ledge looking out over the lovely afternoon light on the valley down below.

“There’s no place I’d rather be.”

“I hear that,” Dave replied.

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Facebook time out

When I was on vacation last month I enjoyed being off the grid. It was super nice to live in the moment and forget about the world outside our little climbing and painting bubble down in Utah.

After I returned, I tried to improve the paintings I did down there. But it turns out I couldn’t do much for them in the studio. I seem to be an on location painter, period. I tried to breath more life into them…but the oxygen they need is down in Moab, not in my studio. I did at least try not to make them worse. And I only worked on one of them, but eventually gave it up as a lost cause. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the painting, I tend to do that. I’ve had paintings  sell that I thought were broken.

But finally I posted them up to Facebook to see what my friends thought of my work. But after posting them, I got to thinking about why it even mattered to me what my friends thought. And that made me realize I needed a break from Facebook. I haven’t been on for a week, and intend to stay off for a while.

I like to thing that my art is an activity that transcends time. One of the reasons I love making art is that I am creating something that lives all on it’s own. A good piece of art, whether it is a book, a song, or a painting, has a life of it’s own. We are creating beauty where beauty did not exist before.

There is a reason why drawings still survive from the 1500’s and earlier. Everyone who sees them recognizes the beauty, and treasures them. Now this is not to say my art is that good. But perhaps someday it will be, if I keep learning and improving.

I have one of my great aunts paintings on my mantel. She painted it around 1910, and it has been handed down through the family. I love the way art lives on it’s own merits. If it’s pretty, people will hang onto it because it adds beauty to their lives. If the art is bad, it gets thrown away, and that is as it should be.

I also have tons of old photos that have come down through the family, including some of my great aunt, the painter. But the funny thing is, I have no use for them. They don’t add any beauty to my life. Her painting however is lovely. Art is cool, and I feel very lucky to be a painter.

I have all my recent paintings up on my landscapes page on my main website: my landscape painting page

I have a lot of administrative work to do this quarter. We are planning more changes in our program. They will be good changes, and will help our students get jobs, but it’s a lot of extra work above and beyond my normal full time teaching job. Still, I shouldn’t complain, I’m happy to be working. It’s fun learning new things.

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Indian Creek climbing and painting

Indian Creek, Moab

Daphney on Scarface
Daphney on Scarface

I’ve been back from climbing at Indian Creek for 10 days. Daphney and I had a great time.  We spent the first day with

cave route
cave route

Craig, who was on his way home from working in San Diego. That first day we climbed at the Donnelly crag. I tried to lead a 120 foot route called “Generic Crack”. The rack is one red, 9 yellows, two blues and a 4. I was fresh off a 24 hour drive on two hours of sleep…I bailed early. Craig and Daphney both led it clean. We also did the Cave route…or rather, they led it, while I took pictures. It was all reds, which is my worst size. My hands don’t fit in red cracks.  I found out later that, for guys with big hands, learning to master reds is the hardest thing to learn at the creek.

That was Saturday. Sunday we went back to Donnelly and climbed a few things we hadn’t got to the day before. She was super tired from on sighting 5.11’s the day before with Craig. We decided to take a rest afternoon. I offered to teach her how to oil paint.

crag near donnelly canyon
crag near donnelly canyon

We each did a nice painting of this rode side buttress in the afternoon light. It was her first oil painting ever and she did a fabulous job! We both started with  monochrome wash using Raw Umber. It’s a lot like using pencil, except it’s oil paint. You simply have to do a value study. I got bored with mine and broke out the color to make what you see here. The light was flat…no cast shadows, so the painting turned out almost abstract. Normally I hate painting in flat light, but something about this little painting works.

That night…might have been Sunday or Monday, it poured. We woke up to soaked sandstone and decided it was a good day to drive to town for some shopping and showers. We stopped by to see a hay bale house she had helped to build a couple years ago. It was a standard Ranch style house, one story, but the interior was all done by hand using hay and mixes of special mud.  The floor was not concrete, it was mud mixed with hay. You aren’t supposed to ever mop it. The owner can’t hang pictures on the walls with nails because the walls are hay bales covered with 2 inches of adobe plaster. I heard that this style of home construction can outlast standard buildings.

north fork mill creek canyon waterfall
north fork mill creek canyon waterfall
My painting, north fork mill creek canyon waterfall
My painting, north fork mill creek canyon waterfall

We still had time to kill before some of her other friends got off work so we hiked up to the North Fork of Mill Creek where there is a cool waterfall. There were some folks with a couple slack lines, but we ignored them as we set up our easels to paint. I decided to do this one with palette knife.  It was once again flat light, even raining a little bit but we found an overhang under which to paint. I was fully expecting this one to bomb. I still don’t know what to think of it, but it feels very fresh and lively. I use instagram to reach out to other like minded artists. When I posted this little waterfall, I was shocked to see it rack up more “likes” than any other painting I’ve ever posted.

 

We hung out with Ranger  M and his girlfriend J when we were in town on a rain day. My favorite route was “where’s carruthers”. It’s a 10+ left of Scarface that I led clean after following on top rope. As Daphney said, “Learning to accept top ropes when they are offered is part of how you become a creek climber”.

I did 4 paintings down there, all in a three day period where the rains came in at night. We drove to town, and I painted a waterfall up a canyon outside of Moab. When we woke up, I was ready to climb, but she said the rock needed another day. When I found out Delicate Arch was half an hour away, she went hiking and I went painting. I did two paintings that day.

delicate arch painting
delicate arch painting
soulfire 5.11
soulfire 5.11

I’ve had  the first one on my easel for the last few days. I’m trying to bring it to life. A lot of people liked it, perhaps more than any other painting I’ve done plein air. But I didn’t like it. I felt it was weak in many places. I’ve been slowly building in beauty, but it’s such a delicate process. The light is extremely tricky. It’s all reflected reds and tans. I’m trying to work from the photos I took as I did the plein air work…but I really miss the real light. Cameras don’t capture what I need, so my colors end up being guesses. Still, I was guessing on location, and it’s good practice to work in the studio.

Daphney gave me some great advice for the creek that applies to painting as well. “Forget about all your preconceived notions of how to define sucess. Do the best you can, and if it can’t be perfect, it’s fine to fail. You learn stuff either way, and it’s all fun. We are out here in this beautiful place, living the life we dreamed of. Who cares if the route was climbed perfectly, or if the painting is magnificent. Life is about learning and growing.”

Another cool route was mudslide 10+ over at Optimat0r wall. I followed D up Soulfire 5.11+: 130 feet of reds, capped by 3 greens near the anchor. I did quite well, only hung 3 times. I can’t wait to go back. It is the best crack climbing area I’ve ever seen.

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Crossed over to the dark side

Ever since 1976, practically a lifetime ago, Sue and I have been trying to master telemark skiing. We used to do it on cross country skinny skis with 3 pin bindings. It got harder and harder as we got older, natural I guess, since it is such a difficult and dynamic turn. It’s like doing squats, except while hurtling down the ski slope.

There used to be a mindset among my generation during the 80’s when we were young. We shunned the downhill ski areas. They were too crowded and too expensive. We would skin up into the mountains where it was free. There were no crowds, no chair lifts, and we prided ourselves on our hardiness. The only reasonably light ski back then was the cross country ski. We’d buy the ones with metal edges. They were light on the uphill, challenging on the downhill, but that was all part of the fun.

senior ticket to snoqualmie in the rain
senior ticket to snoqualmie in the rain

When we had kids, they followed us up on their skinny skis, but they never really mastered the telemark turn. It requires a lot of practice. As they became adults, with money of their own, they looked at the learning curve in telemarking and went straight to Randonee skis. These are also called AT (All Terrain) skis. You can still skin up into the backcountry, but on the way down you lock your heels, just like a downhill ski binding.

Because they both have great jobs in the medical field, they were able buy downhill tickets and quickly mastered the difficult skiing conditions found in the backcountry. Whenever we took them out into the mountains (usually Paradise at Mt. Rainier), they would leave us in the dust.

5 years ago we bought new telemark gear, the first in 30 years. We thought it would be the ticket to skiing better. It did help a lot. When I bought my yearly downhill ticket I could ski all day on my telegear. That never used to happen on my skinny skis.

But I still can’t even begin to keep up with my kids. The teleturn requires so much practice that it is basically impossible to master without a season pass. And even then it’s not a super fast turn like you can do on downhill skis.

Diamond Helios and Blizzard Zero G 95
Diamond Helios and Blizzard Zero G 95

Long story short, Sue and I pulled some money out of savings and invested in new backcountry AT gear. They feature pivoting toes for skinning up, and  lock down heels on the bindings for skiing down.

I feel a bit guilty for giving up on my dream of being a great telemarker. There is an old saying about skiing: “Free the heel, free the mind”. It’s a bumper sticker seen at ski areas. Supposedly telemark skiing with it’s free floating heel is more of a zen experience. It is lovely turn, no doubt. But at our advanced state of decrepitude, I think we need all the help we can get.

There is another old saying in regards to telemark skiing. When you give up on telemark skiing, and buy skis with lock down heels, you have “crossed over to the dark side”. Still, now that I’m on the dark side maybe I have a chance of keeping up with my daughter. I just need to ride the chair a few times to get the hang of downhill skiing again.

Who knows, perhaps there’s hope for us old duffers. Sue got Black Diamond Helios skis, with the Dynafit speed Radical binding, while I got the Blizzard 95 Zero G skis, with the Dynafit TLT Radical ST 2.0 Binding. I’m dreading looking at my credit card balance after these purchases. But, these skis should be the last skis we ever buy, so it may be money well invested. We’ve skied on them once, in the rain, $40 lift tickets and they worked fabulous. It’s like having brand new downhill skis, which we haven’t had in 35 years. The bindings released correctly twice when I fell. I like the theory behind these Dynafit bindings. I did some research and they’ve been around since the late 80’s. They started as a modification of the Ramer binding, which was my downhill binding up until last week. Ramers had a “tuning fork” that would pivot on some pins. In  a fall, the tuning fork would flex enough to open, releasing the boot from the ski. These Dynafit bindings have a mechanism that reflects that heritage.

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Self Portrait at 63

self portrait done

Staring at Mirrors

I finished another self portrait today.

Self portrait senior citizen pencil
Self portrait senior citizen pencil

I will post in order, first to last, along with a few notes about my thinking.

I started in pencil, made sure it was accurate, then sprayed it with fix. This pencil drawing was about 4 hours of work.  I intentionally made the eyes oversized. Several months ago I watched a movie called “Big Eyes”. Continue reading Self Portrait at 63

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Self Portrait March 2017

Another Self Portrait

I started another self portrait a few days ago. Pencil seemed like a good starting medium, but I got lost in the details and forgot it was going to all be covered up with oil paint. In hindsight I should have just done a nice pencil drawing and called it good. I’ve got some lovely Rives cold press 80# Illustration board that makes awesome pencil drawings. But I started this on gesso covered board, so an oil painting it will be.

Self Portrait from mirror, pencil
Self Portrait from mirror, pencil

I posted the pencil version on instagram  and my friend Kristi said I should leave some of the pencil showing, for an unfinished look. I’m not sure if that will happen, but I do like the look of the hair in pencil contrasted with the skin tones. I mean, if I wanted it photographic, I’ve got cameras for that. I’m trying to create art, but art is so hard to define.  It means different things to everyone.

Anyway, I’m happy with the progress, and look forward to spending more time on it. I’m still hammering out the color scheme. For example, what color is reflected light on skin? I’m using two lights: a shop trouble light (incandescent) for the main, and a much smaller fluorescent trouble light for the fill light.

I honestly can not see the hue. I keep guessing at violets and greens, but nothing rings true. They say any hue will work if the value is correct. And it’s true that if I flatten it to black and white the values look accurate…but that doesn’t help as I agonize over paint colors at my palette.

Self Portrait, 7 hours in
Self Portrait, 7 hours in

It’s lovely to have the spare time to paint. This quarter has been too much work and not enough play, up until this week.

Lisa and I did our usual birthday ski Tuesday. We went to Crystal this year where I tried out some borrowed downhill skis. My normal tele boots didn’t fit them so I tried out some boots from the early eighties and they were horrible. Now I realize I need to invest in new boots that will work for modern downhill skis. But I can’t afford both downhill boots and backcountry boots…assuming I want to ski randonee style (AT) in the backcountry.

At Crystal I quickly shed the downhill gear and went back to my telemark set up. That was awesome in the deep powder and I made it all day in those. But it’s all about the boots. My tele boots are only a few years old and they work great, very supportive in deep snow. My son said he would help me look for modern downhill boots when they go on sale this spring.