Fletch, Sue, Craig, Lisa, Julia and I drove up to the new Seattle Vertical World Indoor rock climbing gym Sunday and Monday. The walls are 55 feet tall, and when you climb up to the top, you feel like you are on a real climbing cliff, not just inside a building in Seattle. Those tall walls make our little gym in Tacoma feel very short indeed. We have lots of fun in Tacoma, but there is no mistaking the fact that higher walls make for more fun. Plus they have 4 cracks in Seattle which range from a long layback crack, to a handcrack, to an off hands crack and a finger crack.
The cracks are beautifully made and super fun to climb. The finger crack may be the best “all fingers” crack in the state. It is consistently perfect fingers for 55 feet. The lead climbing area is amazing. They have routes starting at 5.8, and some of the nines go completely horizontal when they reach the ceiling, which means they are longer than 55 feet once you add 12 feet of ceiling climbing. When you fall from up that high and drop into air…it’s scary, but fun. I can’t wait to get back up there. It might be as much fun as going to exit 38, since they are both bolts, and the routes are about the same height.
When I got back from vacation I was climbing poorly at the gym . This is typical because climbing outside uses different muscles than climbing indoors on plastic. Last night I was on my third session, and while my hands weren’t much stronger, my overall balance, power, strategy and grace were showing the effects of two weeks of full time climbing.
My moves were sure, powerful and directed to optimize my reach, as in: leading with the hip, crossing through, getting in the zone…all the skills I normally forget about in city living. I was climbing with a new partner, and we were doing the top rope routes. There are some very good TR routes. They feature cerebral climbing, as opposed to just crimpers and muscle moves.
I’m also feeling the urge to paint again. I watched a movie about an art student called Cashback on netflix. It was your typical frustrated young art student film, but with some strange plot twists involving the ability to stop time, and then walk around in the moment while everyone is frozen as in a life drawing class.
The concept was original, but what moved me the most was when his friends set him up with a false gallery interview. He shows up to the gallery with his drawings, only to find his friends had set him up as a prank. He says: “You mean I don’t have an appointment?” The gallery owner says: “No, but as long as you are here, what do you have?” Which leads to a big one man show.
Here I sit at this big glass screen, pushing on these little plastic keys. How can this compare to the happy go lucky life of a dirt bag rock climber? Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the climbing life.
We went down to Joshua Tree for the holidays. Do you know this Joni Mitchell song?
“It’s coming on Christmas they’re cutting down trees Putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
If you know that song, then you will understand when I say that Jtree was my river this year. I drove down with Merica and we climbed for a week in puffy weather. I exchanged Merica for Randy and Sue on Christmas at the Palm Spring airport. Craig, Ashlie, Michael, Ammon McNeely, Vladimir and Des also showed up and stayed for all or parts of the trip.
Merica and I got down in 23 hours, arriving at 6 AM Sunday. We crashed in a vacant site until 10 and then got up and climbed the bong.
On the walk back through the campground, Merica saw some climbers leaving site 27 and we snagged it for the duration. On Monday we were climbing at Quail Spring Picnic Area and Craig walked up, having driven down in 19 hours, including a 3 hour nap. That means he shaved 6 hours off our time. He says he just drove faster, but that doesn’t seem possible. I think he got abducted by aliens.
Ashley showed up in a few days with Michael and Ammon McNeely. Ashley, Michael and Ammon are all living and working in the skydiving industry in Lodi, California. Ammon has been called the best aid climber in the world and a google search will return many great stories. He is a master story teller. We spent many nights around the campfire listening to his adventures on El Cap, and his close calls base jumping. His best story was about the time he and two others jumped off a 500 foot electric power transmission tower.
Here is Ammon’s story, as remembered by me:
They had a less experienced jumper with them who had not bothered to pack his chute. He was supposed to hold it in his hand until they flew through the wires, and then release it for inflation. Instead, he released the chute early, before they had fallen through the wires.
His chute partially inflated and the lines caught in Ammons shoe. Ammon says he thinks he saved the guys life because Ammon pulled him away from the powerline. But then they were both falling toward the ground, and neither could open their chutes due to the tangle.
Ammon was frantically trying to pull his foot out of the other guys chute lines as he watched the ground rush towards him at terminal velocity. Finally he pointed his toes and his foot popped clear. The other guys chute was able to open and Ammon pulled his rip cord…at 55 feet. He said his chute popped, he flared, and he landed, all in about 2 seconds.
His first thought on the ground was: “Oh my God, I almost died. But…that was so cool!”
Ammon had many other stories, too many to recount here, but I will say that the story about his 80 foot rope solo whipper, and the denied rescue attempt on El Cap was fantastic. They told him to hold up two hands for no, and one for yes.
Merica and I had to wear puffys and carry my handwarmers to stay warm, but we had a great time warming up on the many easy Joshua Tree rock climbs. By the time Randy and Sue arrived Christmas weekend I was starting on the 5.9’s. Joshua Tree has old school ratings, which means that you may find, as I did, that you can get gripped out of your gourd on a 5.5. Double Dip is a case in point. I led Merica up that one thinking it would be a cruise. I got totally bugged out at the 30 foot runnout. The fall would have meant a hospital stay. My friction skills were rusty and climbing up those friction holds with the bolt gettting further and further away was unnerving. I don’t know if it was the weirdness of the climbing, or my whining, but Merica didn’t want to climb anything else there after Double Dip.
We left and headed over to Toe Jam, which she liked a lot better. I also took Merica up Bat Crack. Bat is a long 5.4 that goes all the way up Intersection Rock in one long pitch.
It starts out in a cool body slot chimney, passes a 10,000 year old car sized pile of bat dung, traverses some thin face climbing and finishes with 30 meters of wide crack. It’s a very lovely pitch. Merica climbed it in her puffy coat.
Because it gets dark and cold at 5 there is a lot of time to kill each evening. Dinner and a campfire is nice, but wood is expensive so we went out exploring in the desert on night hikes. A prime hiking destination from Hidden Valley campground is the famous Iron Door cave. Legend has it that a frustrated parent locked his developmentally disabled teenage son in the cave back in the last century. He would shove food in through holes in the sides of the locked cave and then leave. Craig and I tried to find it one night and gave up after wandering around in the desert for two hours. We stayed warm, but never found the Iron Door cave despite my having been there before in the day light.
Ammon took 4 of us there a couple nights later and he gave me landmarks as we walked, which burned it into my memory. Here are photos of us in the cave:
I captured this photo by having Craig sit in the cave with his red headlamp shining on the door. It set my Cannon 50D on a rock with a 10 second delay to about a 5 second exposure. During the exposure, I painted the rocks with my led headlamp, hence the blue coloring. I did not do any post processing in Photoshop. It came out of the camera like this.
After hanging out at the Iron Door cave, Ammon offered to take us to the Hobbit Hole. These pictures are from our first visit to the Hobbit Hole:
Red headlamps make cool lighting! I believe Ammon might have been smoking some of that wacky tabacky. I was glad to get out of there…the smoke was getting thick in that tiny little cave.
The girls had wisely decided not to accompany on our first night time hike. After leaving the Hobbit Hole, we headed back through the dark starry night towards the campground. Ammon, our guide, had imbibed rather heavily and was unsure of the way. All the desert mounds look similar at night and we soon realized we were lost. I located the north star and thought we could simply walk south. We would be bound to eventually hit one of the roads leading out from Intersection Rock. But after wandering south for a while, Ammon came to life and decided we were too far East. He took the lead again and we walked South West for half an hour until we saw a white spot reflecting light on the horizon.
It turned out to be a 25 MPH speed limit sign on a road…but what road? And which direction should we walk on said road? We turned right and walked for 10 minutes but decided it was the wrong direction. We turned around and walked the other way, eventually spotting the campfires of Hidden Valley campground. I was completely turned around by that time and had no idea where we were until we walked into the actual campground.
The next day was windy so we drove down to Indian Cove for warmer climbing, food and showers.
Craig and I had an awesome day during the first week where we ended the day with half an hour of light left. We realized we just had time to sail up Damper over on Chimney rock. We hot footed it over there and he led it with just two pieces of gear. I raced up it quickly thanks to my fat feet and hands. At the top we had time for a exactly 4 photos before the sun dropped below the horizon and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. There is no anchor up there, and if you don’t know your Joshua Tree descents it can get desperate. Someone had rapped off a brand new yellow Metolius cam and Craig snagged it. If only I hadn’t blown the rock paper scissors that cam would have been mine.
Friday night was Merica’s last night before her flight home. A couple Swiss guys joined the 7 of us for a grand tour of the night time hotspots. We headed towards the Iron Door cave again, this time with me in the lead. Ammon walked behind me double checking my navigation in the moon light. I nailed it first try, he was a good teacher.
The Iron Door cave is only an 8 minute walk from the campground if you know the way.
Starting from the left is Michael, who works as a sky diving instructor in Lodi. Second from left is Ammon McNeely. Ammon and Michael know each other through Base Jumping. Ashlie is also trying to break into skydiving as a career and knows them from Lodi. Merica, my climbing partner is in the blue coat is surounded by the two Swiss guys, whose names I don’t remember. They were super nice guys, and very talented climbers on a 3 month climbing trip between college and career.
The seven of us were packed like sardines in the tiny Hobbit Hole cave. There were so many of us in the tiny cave that it actually started to warm up the air. Ammon and Michael kept passing around some kind of wacky tabacky and the smoke got so thick I had to leave them to it for the fresh air outside.
We found our way back to the campground successfully that night. I was ready to call it quits as I had to pick up Sue at the airport the next day but everyone insisted I couldn’t break up the team…so we headed off for the Chasm of Doom. This is normally done without headlamps as a sort of exercise in trust. You are supposed to climb through it with a guide in pitch darkness, holding onto the person infront and behind, with each person telling the next where to place their feet and hands. The Chasm starts at the bottom of a rock tower and climbs up though the center of the tower in a hidden tunnel. It’s a bizarre formation that has occasional glimpses of the stars over head, but is mostly completely enclosed by overhanding boulders and huge slabs of rock.
With headlamps it’s a lot safer and we made our way quickly up through the chasm until the birthing canal. This is a body sized chimney that ascends to the balcony overlooking true hidden valley. A fall here would not be pleasant and I was wishing I had not worn my chaco sandals. The drop down the chimney is about 35 feet, and it would take some caving specialists to extract you from a fall at the wrong moment.
This is Merica in the easy part of the Chasm.
Towards the end of the trip Craig and I were getting warmed up. He towed me up Bearded Cabbage, and I led Vladimir up Orphan. Craig also followed me up Dandelion which I had never climbed before. It is a lovely 10 left of Toe Jam. I also led Craig and Randy up Papa Woolsey. I didn’t serve my usual apprenticeship over at Echo slab, choosing to focus on crack climbing, instead of run out slab.
On the last day we tried to lead O’Kelley’s crack, but couldn’t get past the bouldery start. We should have just done a hand stand, or climbed Wangerbanger…but decided to go do something we could easily get up before starting the epic drive home. We found this little outcropping at the Lost Horse road intersection and we all led some moderate climbs followed by this finger eater.
On the drive home, we missed some turns and took a tour of Riverside on highway 60, and Stockton on highway 99. It’s strange how you can be driving those LA freeways and completely miss a critical exit. You suddenly find yourself miles from the correct road, with no way to turn around. We had three gps’s in the car, but thought we were smart enough not to need them…wrong.
Drove over to Vantage with my friend Crystal. I met Crystal 3 years ago in Joshua Tree. She was with Brett and Ondi and we spent half a day climbing together. Later she became friends with Paul and Craig and we all climbed together at various points and places, including Yosemite. She was in town to interview hospitals for her general practice residency which will start in March.
After 7 years of college, including 4 in medical school she has a lot of integrity. We had some great conversations around the campfire, sitting on big rocks in the dirt around our underperforming campfire. Her friend Will showed up at 9 PM saturday and joined us for the second day down at sunshine wall. The weather was perfect with temps around 50 which allowed us to climb in sweats and shirts.
Will is an interesting character. He was raised on a cattle ranch, but sells Comcast door to door in Seattle. At only 21, he has a lot of life behind him, a great job, and a ton of talent on the cliff. I’ve never seen anyone stem those Vantage columns as wide as Will. I hope to be able to hook up with him for some climbing trips.
Good partners are hard to find. Crystal has already left town for medical school in Florida. I’ve got partners scattered all over the country, but finding one right here can be challenging. I miss the easy communication of facebook. I don’t miss facebook, but I miss the ability it has to get you in touch with climbing partners.
I led the spl. beaver route 5.9 and George-Martha 5.10a, both cleanly. G&M was quite easy at the bottom. The off hands jams seemed very solid. A couple were awkward sidepulls, but I never felt I was going to come off. The pro is perfect in there if you have purple, green and red camalots, doubles at least, and triples in the green.
At the wide top section of G&M I went up and down a couple times. It turned out to be a layback with high toe jams and double fist jams protected by a 4 and 5 camalot. I didn’t even grab the flake in the back this time. I just grabbed the ledge above and pulled up into a knee jam. Not graceful, but it got the job done.
I am watching some lynda.com videos on how to develop Android apps. It’s very slow going as I keep getting distracted by work and climbing. The videos require you to download a lot of strange files, and nothing works quite as well for me as it does for him on the videos. Still, this could be something very big, and possibly even something we could add to our curriculum as part of the web programming classes.
I made a couple Droid cases over thanksgiving weekend. I also taught myself how to make a customizable jquery slideshow. I fought for several hours to get a cross platform software solution to the password issue. To be able to login on Mac’s and PC’s to websites is manageable, but when you throw in an Android phone…things get complicated. I’m still not sure about the RAZR, but so far I am liking it a lot. It’s a huge step up from my 3 year old original Droid. I’ve been able to get the battery to last three 10 hour days by turning off data most of the time, except when I am surfing the net, or downloading apps. I don’t have 4G out here, so I can’t comment on how that works. It works great as a phone, and the new Gingerbread OS is a pleasure to use. It’s super fast, and lighter than my old Droid. But mostly I’ve been enjoying making cases for it. I will do a review later, but so far I have no regrets about upgrading. As Phil said, I made a valiant effort to avoid the whole smartphone addiction issue. How many other people went as far as trying ham radio to avoid a data plan? Probably just me. In the end smartphones are just cool toys.
But I swear I will not become the person who stands on a street corner, or in a busy hallway staring and pecking at a smartphone, oblivious of, or intentionally ignoring, the life going on around them. The whole data thing is just for fun, or when I have to access data and don’t have a computer nearby…which is almost never. I’ve uninstalled all the games on the phone. Call me old fashioned, and you’d be right.
We had a great turkey day dinner with 19 relatives. Family is awesome. They all know I paint. After dinner, and a two hour card game called Buzz Words, they asked to see my paintings. It was weird having everyone line up like I was a performer or something, showing my paintings one at a time. But I guess we artists have to show our stuff. I’m just not used to it. We’d planned to skin up the hill at Paradise, but the snow changed to rain. I used the extra days to study Jquery programming and build things from leather and sheetmetal.
I caught a bad cold last weekend. My friends Ed and Mindy were coughing so much I started calling them the tuberculosis twins. Friday night I didn’t sleep so good and by Saturday morning I was in the midst of a heavy cold. I have zero energy and was coughing.
I spent the day vegging out with Netflix videos. I think I watched about 6 of them. Truly a couch potato day. This morning Sunday, I woke up feeling a little bit better but still had zero energy. I spent a couple hours wasting time surfing the net reading about the new Google Nexus prime cell phone. My droid is 2 years old and is pretty boring. Droid razor is already out and the Nexus prime is coming out in a month or two. I’ve been obsessing about both of them which is an indicator that I’m bored and completely brainwashed by the advertising blitz. I got my Martin guitar out for the 1st time in a year and played a couple songs. My obsession with cell phones disappeared completely. There is nothing like the pure ringing tones of a real musical instrument to make you realize that this obsession we have with cellphones is just that: an obsession.
Feeling better, I went out and prepared some pastel paper. It comes in white, so I have to paint it gray, the gray paper gives me a neutral ground to which I can add white and black pastel, using the gray paper as the medium tones (neutral ground). I’m also doing a little lesson planning learning the Jquery programming language. After that I think I may try to start another painting, and maybe I’ll even go to the gym if I feel strong.
I finished my three quarter view self portrait. It’s not perfect, but it’s as good as I can make it. I’m looking forward to starting another one, but I’d like to draw someone else. Getting someone to spend 12 hours over 4 or 5 sittings is going to be almost impossible. Perhaps I will draw my hand instead. I’ve always wanted to do a good hand…maybe combine it with a series of closeups of difficult features like lips, eyes, nose, ear, hands. I love having a drawing going out at the easel. I come home from work, eat dinner, read a book for a while, and then head over to my easel. Painting is so much fun.
Put the color on my drawing today. I had some moments of magic, but most of the time I was frustrated by my inability to paint accurately. I see too much green in the
skin. And shadows are a mystery. And something is wrong with the lips…but they say that is the definition of a portrait: a drawing with bad lips.
Changed the oil in the truck today at 155,000 miles. Sue and I walked and pedaled the hills of Old Town Tacoma today for exercise. Then I bought the Kindle 3 at Best Buy. The Kindle works surprisingly well. It reads books using the new E-ink technology, and downloads them over 3G at lighting speeds. I loaded 10 books from the library for free to my laptop, and transferred to the Kindle via USB cable. I was able to surf the net, and check www.weather.com…all for free. The Kindle comes with a browser and free 3G using the ATT network. It’s black and white, but who cares?
I should have gone climbing with Phil. He is back at Vantage, probably climbed Sinsemilla today. But I needed to spend some time with family, do some things around here, and paint. Painting is very important. In the long run it is much more important than climbing. By continuing my education, even when my paintings go badly, I am learning the craft…or should I call it art? In my hands, it feels more like a craft.
I read somewhere that art in any form, be it painting, writing, dance or music, requires not just talent, but work. You have to WORK at it. Or, in the words of Jack London: you can’t wait for inspiration to strike, you have to go after it with a club.
I’ve been working on another self portrait in my studio. I have a mirror by the easel and I’ve been painting the man reflected there. He is a strange looking old fellow. In my heart I’m still a young man, full of wonder at this great mystery they call life. But the man in the mirror is middle aged, old even. And yet I see something of myself in his wizened stare. He has a slight grin, and a twinkle in his eye.
I should be painting someone young and beautiful…but here we are, together again…I guess we find each other convenient. Strangely though, each hour I spend on the painting, I feel more of myself in the image, as if I’m transferring energy from the living man to the painting.
I’m transitioning from a finished black and white drawing to a color painting tonight, and the excitement is growing,. The pastels feel almost electric under my fingers as I stroke them ever so carefully across the sandy surface of the Rives BFK.
I feel very fortunate to have this rare gift for painting. Granted I’m not very good, but the pleasure it brings me is something money can’t buy. Here it is in black and white.
Phil and I had an awesome weekend at Vantage. Saturday we climbed the Seven V…. route. Phil wanted to warm up on something easy and Seven V… is a nice 5.7. After that we walked over to the Air Guitar area where we did a nice fist crack called Pony Keg. We had both Phils rack and my rack so I was able to bring up 4 blues and 4 yellows, plus a couple greens and reds for the bottom. With enough big gear, Pony Keg feels just like Classic Crack: a fun cruise up a lovely crack climb.
After that we both led Air Guitar, which felt harder, but still very do-able. I was expecting it to be a give-away, but had to fish around for the correct moves at the bottom. Pony Keg is very straight forward. You climb the crack and go, but Air Guitar starts out with a combination of thin finger jams on tiny cams combined with not so obvious face holds. I soon got myself sorted out and sent the rest of it fine.
We led a few sport routes that day as well, with Phil finishing out the day on Bushido 10C. That thing was very pumpy. I don’t think I will ever have the muscle power to lead something that long and pumpy. I also need to take some practice lead falls outdoors to get my head ready for falling on bolts.
Sunday we walked up to the Sinsemilla area. We did a two pitch sport route there as a warm up and noticed a nice looking crack climb off to the left. I inspected it on the rap down and realized it might be within my abilities. We pulled our gear off the sport route and I led Corner Pockets cleanly. It was rated 10B trad and had a one very difficult move where you had to move up on a ring lock. It was a one inch crack, green camalot sized: too small for a hand jam, too big for fingers. The only thing I got was a ring lock where you wrap your thumb around your index finger. I had to pull down on that and a bad hand jam, friction my feet in the tiny crack in the corner of the dihedral and throw for manky jam higher up. The move felt very insecure. I was almost certain I was going to fall, which seems to be normal on 10b. I had good gear at my waist, and as soon as I moved up, I stuffed in a perfect yellow #2 camalot. It’s so cool to onsight new hard climbs.
After that I led Throbbing Gristle. I shot this video while I was chimneying up Shady Corner, a very cool 5.7 like the 7V…. route, but much cleaner. You are in between three columns, over a lot of air. It’s a fun route, worth doing again with a better camera. My Lumix does not handle extremes of light and dark well.
On the rap down we inspected Split Beaver 5.9 and found it to be a lovely hand and finger crack. We both led it and loved it. It starts out with 60 feet of user friendly hand jams and good stems across to the Gristle column. Then it changes to very clean finger jams in excellent rock for another 35 feet to the top. Several of the moves in the finger section are committing, but there is always protection above you if you need it.
On the way out of the campground we saw a couple campsites where people were cooking dinner around their campfires, getting ready for another night under the stars, followed by more climbing under the sun. I’m thankfull to have a cool job that pays the bills, but it does always seem like the weekends are too short, especially when I am climbing as well as I did this last weekend.
Sue and I had a relaxing weekend at home. She washed the car, I waxed it. Sunday I pulled the ham radio antenna wiring harness off the bottom of the truck. I’d had antenna wires traveling under the body of the car from the cab to the back bumper where the antenna was mounted.
Getting that ham radio installation finished took me 5 days of full time work, scattered over a few months last winter and spring. And then when it was finally finished, I got bored with it. It is a sad ending to an exciting childhood dream. Turns out there is a reason why there are very few hams: it’s boring. Or, I should amend that: it’s boring if you like your hobbies to combine exercise and adrenaline.
I do enjoy some hobbies that involve sitting still: painting could be considered very boring to some people. It doesn’t get any lazier than sitting at an easel. But there is something so full-filling about creating a painting from scratch that I feel it is worth the stillness.
To have a gift and not use it is simply wrong. I was driving my grandma home from a family dinner back in 1992. She was 99 and still in very good health, living alone with her dog, listening to talking books and sending letters out to her extended family. I had showed my paintings to the family that evening, and grandma was very happy to see me finally taking my art seriously. This pencil drawing from a photo of grandma is one I showed to the family. I had painted in my teens, but hadn’t picked it up again until I was 40.
“Mark,” grandma said, “Will you promise me something?”
“Sure grandma, what is it?” I said.
“Don’t ever stop painting! Life is too short and you have a gift, promise me you won’t stop painting again.”
“Ummm, ok grandma.”
Grandma had a favorite aunt named Florence Carpenter (1842-1920). Florence took my 16 year old grandma to Europe where grandma studied to be a concert pianist. You can find Florence on the internet. She acheived some minor fame as a watercolor landscape painter. She is listed in a book in the library named “100 American Women Painters of the 19th Century”.
I inherited one of great Aunt Florences watercolor paintings. We call it “the blue girl”, though rumor has it that grandma posed for it. I doubt it’s ever been seen in public before. It sits above my mantel as I write these words. She was the last painter in our family. Of all the people in our huge extended family, I am the first descendent since Florence to paint. It’s strange to think of that slender thread of talent weaving down through the generations, like a recessive gene. Why did her talent finally surface, and why did it pick me?
I have a painting underway at my easel. It’s another self portrait: three quarter view this time. I’m tired after work, and not really in the mood, but sometimes the act of painting puts me in the mood, and if I don’t at least try, I’ll be breaking my promise to grandma.