It seems I’ve taken a break from painting. I had expected to be dirt poor when I retired. Painting was going to be my second career. During the last 30 years I’ve diligently chipped away at the ‘teach yourself to paint’ learning curve. I’ve sold around 90 paintings in galleries. But for every painting I’ve sold, I have 10 that are sitting upstairs piled up against the wall, or stacked in boxes, or hanging on my kids houses walls. They come to me for free decoration.
So, yeah, I’m kind of burned out on painting. I did paint on my last trip, and I’ll paint on my next one. Climbing is hard, rest days are important, and the cliffs are always lovely.
But lately I’ve been playing radio a lot. Like climbing, it is totally pointless…my favorite kind of hobby. I even taught myself to solder. I ordered a kit for an antenna. Everyone is out of the finished product…but kits are available, and only cost $25. My last one took all day to build, and it was so complicated I don’t know how to use it yet. But it sure was fun to build. Who knew soldering could be so much fun?
We drove to two parks today. I took my 7300 today. I’m finding that 100 watts is a nice solid workhorse. QRP with 9 watts is a nuisance. I haven’t given up on QRP, but I think I might save it for mountain tops, or Panorama Point.
Well I got what I asked for, a challenging new hobby.
The new radios are like learning a completely new technology. It’s not a laptop, not a phone, not a camera, it’s a tranceiver. I’ve mostly figured out the radio side of things, but antenna technology is another huge learning curve.
When I tell people about my new ham radio hobby most people react with: is that still a thing?
Asking for contacts on the open air can be very tedious, boring, and often frustrating. You are basically standing in a city park and saying: “Does anyone want to talk…about the weather…politics….anything?” Granted you are somewhat anonymous talking into a microphone…but the lonely feeling of asking for conversation gets weird. Which is why I sold most of my radio gear ten years ago.
But this time around I discovered there is a group of hams who take their radios up on mountain tops. It’s called Summits on the Air (SOTA).
Anyway, I’ve been having a great time with it. I’ve been working pileups of people trying to talk to me. I typically get 25 contacts in the 4 parks I’ve activated. It got so easy with my 100 watt radio I decided to up my game and try a 5 watt radio. My radio weight went from 10 pounds to 2. Battery went from 4 pounds to 1.
Lower power is attractive because the gear is much lighter weight. The downside is that you must have a lot more skill. Think of the secret agents in World War two. They carried their spy radios in little suitcases. They were entirely self contained, running on batteries and talking across continents.
I like the fact that ham radio is all about DIY experimentation. Everything from the radio to the antenna can be built from scratch. I’ve ordered a couple light weight antennas but covid has messed with everyone’s supply chains. I’ve even ordered the raw materials…like ring toroids and enameled wire. That’s my big news.
It will be interesting looking back on this post in a year. I’ll be shaking my head going: radio? Really? What the heck was I thinking!
Long time between posts with a lot going on, I guess that’s a good thing. Just back from Josh with Sue. It was two week road trip testing out our new rig. We were the oldest dirtbags in Josh, though I’m not sure I qualify as a DB anymore with my Tundra.
We stayed in a county fairgrounds park in Roseburg, then 14 hours later in a noisy rest area north of Sacramento. There were massive diesel trucks idling nearby, not a good nights rest. We arrived at Hidden Valley in the afternoon. It was packed as usual and looked like it would be impossible to get a spot…ever.
Next morning we did the dawn tour at HV and scored big, site 18 was empty. It’s the walk in site with the trail to Iron Door Cave and the huge aid ladder boulder.
Sue climbed 7 routes but wore out her thumb at the short wall. Her year old surgery pulled a bone out of her thumb, and hand jamming aggravates it. She did great on Toe Jam, and the slab routes.
I was worried about playing my guitar and disturbing the neighbors. I only played between 9am and 8pm but still…I know how bad I am compared to real players. Afterwards, both neighbors either clapped and cheered, or told me later that it was lovely. Nick said that he loved the sound of guitars in a campground.
Two sites away was a very high end Sprinter van. Nick turned out to be a climber and former base jumper who knew my friend Ammon McNealy. A decade ago Nick went on his honeymoon with his fellow basejumping wife. She died jumping, as all BASE people do if they jump long enough.
A BASE jumper once described the sport to me like this:
You start out with two buckets. One is the experience bucket and it’s empty. The other one is the luck bucket, which is full. Each time you jump, you pour a cup of luck into the experience bucket. After a certain number of jumps, your experience bucket is full, but you’re out of luck.
Nick, in Jtree, also had a very bad BASE accident, not sure of the timing…but he said he gave up the sport. Said that being a former BASE jumper was like being a heroin addict sleeping with a syringe under the pillow. Base feels that good.
I met Ammon 10 years ago in Site 27 where he and Ashley shared a campsite with us. Now Ashley is dead, and Ammon is missing a leg. I really dislike BASE jumping. I lump free soloing and BASE together. I get that it’s a free country and you only live once. “Die like a lion or live like a sheep” blah, blah. Or should I say: Baaa, Baaaa.
Sue and I hiked Dash Point where I set my radio on a log at low tide. I spoke to other Amateur Radio Operators (Hams) in New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Alaska. I got 13 in all, which was enough to qualify as an ‘Activation’ through the POTA website. POTA = Parks on the Air. It’s a non profit organization devoted to getting people outside while promoting Ham Radio.
Ten years ago I got into ham radio as a bucket list thing but quickly got bored. But with POTA and SOTA, it’s fun again. There are a bunch of young youtubers having a lot of fun doing ham. I know it sounds stupid, and you have to study to get a license…but, gosh darn it…it’s just fun. And it’s a good break for me from painting, climbing and yard work.
It’s been 20 days since arriving home from my 22 day holiday trip with James. We left on the 18th after the fall quarter ended. and drove to Zion in two days, sleeping once in the snow up on the Blue Mountains. It was a weird campground. Who keeps a campground open with 6 inches of snow on the ground? The rain and melting snow were pelting down at a furious rate all night. I wondered if we might be snowed in for the winter, but there were a few other campers around and I knew we’d get out eventually. The freeway was only a block away.
Next day we made it to a free camp spot outside Zion near Springdale / Virgin. Sue and I have camped there before. James left his tent up for 4 nights with no problem. The most we saw there was 5 cars. The next day we got to the Angels Landing parking spot around 8am and as soon as I drove into the crowded gravel lot I was immediately surrounded by other cars jamming in. It was merciless. I backed up into a fishy spot that potentially could have blocked other cars from leaving, unless they drove backwards and around the lot. But I had no choice. My truck was too big to back out, that was like swimming up river. I was soon blocked in myself by cars doing much worse parking jobs right beside me. James was like: “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore.”
We cooked breakfast in the dirt then packed up and started the hike. To save weight I took my oils out and put my gouache kit in my rock pack. Angels Landing is an extremely dangerous hike. It’s far worse than the cables route on Half Dome. The chain railings are secure enough, assuming some out of shape tourist doesn’t fall off and cause a chain reaction. But what if you pull a muscle in your hand, or slip, and and can’t hang on? The worst spots were some sandy slabs where there were no chains. Who decides these things? On a climbing approach we’d belay the hell out of slabs like those. There were huge drop offs below them.
The trail looked endlessly dangerous…but was actually quite do-able….as long as I kept my cool. People hike it all day long. I did regret my huge pack. No one had as large a pack as my art pack. But, I did do a reasonably good painting considering we’d just driven a thousand miles in the last 35 hours.
I need to sew a lighter pack, one that isn’t so overly re-enforced everywhere. It just needs to be good enough for skiing and gouache painting days. Probably should have a zipper in the back for repair access…with a vinyl bottom.
Next day I painted Upper Emerald Pool, badly. I just couldn’t seem to get my game face on. Day after that, our third day at Zion, we tried to climb the Mountaineers Route. It used to be like Angels Landing with cables everywhere, built around 1920. It was chopped in the eighties when maintenance became too expensive. There is lots of evidence of the old tourist route in the shape of chopped one inch iron bolts and polished footsteps carved into the sandstone.
James was totally comfortable free soloing death slabs but I hated it. At one point, I was traversing a slab with a huge drop off. There was a bush 50 feet down that might have stopped a slide towards the drop off, or maybe not. We actually had a discussion about the odds of landing on the bush, versus missing it and plummeting into air. James was already across with the rope. The cliff ahead got steeper and was forcing me backwards. The ledge narrowed down to 2 inches of horizontal “trail” on the steep sandy slab. It was about as steep as Slender Thread at Peshastin.
As I stepped forward there was a prickly bush that forced me even farther backwards off balance toward the drop off. I thought of calling James for a belay, but he was out of sight around a corner scampering happily along. With no other options, I grabbed a half inch thick branch of the bush and edged forward thinking: This is a really stupid way to die. I made the move, the flat spot on the slab got bigger and I was able to “hike” another block or so before the same scenario repeated itself. This time I hollered for James. He came back and was able to get me a top rope by scampering up to a 2 inch bush behind which he could belay. All together there were 5 places I had him belay me in the thousand feet we climbed. People on Mtn Project were saying they either free soloed everything, or belayed maybe twice.
I have zero tolerance for mountain climbing. People who enjoy the danger are made from sterner stuff than me. I like the “relative” safety in rock climbing. Sure, it’s dangerous, but so is driving in the dark in a heavy rain storm at 70 miles an hour. Mountain climbing involves a lot of movement over 5th class terrain with no rope. It’s more like that same rainstorm, in the dark…but on a motorcycle. Your margin of safety is very narrow while mountain climbing. I’ve had 8 friends die mountain climbing. Any serious mountaineer will tell you the same stories.
But back to the cliff…we were only half way, a thousand feet up, and it was 2pm. I didn’t want to descend in the dark so we bailed. The rangers told us they were locking the gates next day, which was Xmas eve, the 24th. For three days we had been able to drive through the gate at 6 AM before the rangers arrived.
Beginning in the morning you would only be able to come in via shuttles, and only if you had a reservation. That was a non-starter for us and we bailed at dawn, driving to St. George in a few hours. We lucked out with a $20 camping spot at Snowy Canyon campground. Full service hot showers and everything.
Just Deserts is a lovely three pitch 5.8 with modern bolting…so fun! There is a three pitch 5.7 to it’s right. I led the first pitch, but bailed on the second after Dennis took a 20 foot whipper on a pin. It’s protected with half inch angles…but they held his whipper…I just didn’t want to chance it.
It was good we bailed because at the bottom James suggested doing another route, but I realized Dennis and Julie were probably having trouble finding the walk off. They should have been down an hour earlier.
I hustled around to the walk off an saw them at the very top, belaying down the wrong way. I hollered to look for a hidden manhole style tunnel to skiers left, then began climbing up to guide them down. James and I had just done the walk off earlier on Just Desserts, so I knew it well.
We got all got down and had a nice wood fire that night. Dennis brought the wood.
The next day they did Just Deserts while James led a horror show of a 5.6. 50 feet to the first manky cam, and it got worse from there. He has a dangerous ability to basically free solo chossy rock. He just keeps going up as the pro gets worse and worse. And he does it in guide tennies.
We joined Dennis and Julie where the routes converge and sailed to the top, where it started to rain, hard. Dennis set up a 3 cam anchor for a handline, which I happily used. Then we slid on our butts down the 4th class slabs. That night, they guided us up to Prophesy Wall where there is BLM camping…and 3 inches of snow.
In the bright white morning we drove to Jtree with a stop to see Aaron + Katie and the ham store in Vegas. I ordered the FT3DR general delivery to Jtree post office where it arrived 4 days later.
Jtree was fine, I led Hands Off, Damper, Toe Jam and a super fun new route called Penny Lane left of Double Dip. I tried to lead Stick to What and Touch & Go, but there were crowds of top ropers so we bailed to a nice little 5.8 chimney route left of Chalk Up Another One.
That’s basically the trip. It was 22 days on the road in the Tundra. I never got very good. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older, or if it was all the interruptions. Driving here, driving there, bad camp spots many miles from the cliffs, endless hours of driving, unfamiliar climbing areas….I have lots of excuses.
One of the things I really like about jtree is those lazy mornings at the campground. This is pre-covid of course. You get there, you stock up on food and you live the life until the food and water runs out. All the climbs are familiar, like seeing my cousins at a family reunion. There is very little stress. It’s conducive to getting real good real fast. Can’t wait get back down there after covid eases up.
I’ve been racking my brain for a way to make my painting pack lighter. Sue loves to hike, and I’ll put up with a hike if I can paint, but my art pack is too heavy. I tried acrylics, but so far I don’t like them. I’ve been seeing some nice work done with Gouache. It’s used like a little water color set, but with the ability to have opaque white, like oil. It also blends a bit better than acrylics, since it’s more like water color.
It drys instantly, between watercolor and acrylics for speed. So I don’t need a wet painting carrier box as with oils. I can go on a long hike with just a few sheets of paper, paints and my easel. So it should be extremely light…which means we can hike farther.
Don’t get me wrong. Oil is my go to medium. But for long hikes, it’s just so heavy. The squash was my first gouache painting ever. I’m about 6 hours in and liking the process very much. I predict a scenario where I do sketches plein air in gouache, then expand them in the studio with oil.
Update on 12 – 15: I’ve started combining pen with Gouache. Pen is great because if forces me into right brain mode faster. You can’t erase with pen and ink….so you either draw well quickly, or quit. There is a whole movement called “urban sketchers” that combines pen and watercolor in little 6 x 8 sketchbooks. You can pack the whole thing in a laptop bag and bicycle around town…or Europe.
California has locked down the campgrounds due to ICU capacity being below 15% in most counties. I’d planned my usual jtree trip as soon as the quarter was over…but now I’m hesitating. Even though Sue and I and C L probably had covid in February, I really don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who travels during a statewide stay at home order. I have the rest of my life to travel…don’t have to jump in the truck with no partner and violate all kinds of civic responsibilities because I want my vacation no matter what.
I have to clear out my desk at work Wednesday, and hand in my Master Key. I wonder if I’ll get a golden watch? Seems appropriate…but unlikely. I have over 600 hours of unused sick leave…wonder if it’s worth anything. I claimed two sick days in 20 years at this job. I’m going to miss John, Darryl, Ken and Joe. All really good teachers and top notch human beings trying to do their best.
Retired after 52 years of working
Cleared out my desk today. Ken was there, and Shawn in studio A. Went over to security to hand in my key and badge. Bunch of cars out front, lights were on, it wasn’t quitting time but they weren’t answering my knock. I think they were hoping I’d go away. I stood there under the porch in the heavy rain, lit by a small lamp, thinking: not much of a retirement party. I called the night number and Mark came over and let me in. I’ve had many long conversations with Mark going all the way back to Nancy in 1999 when I was a student there. But the lack of excitement was palpable: “Retiring after twenty years, huh, cool.”
Retiring is something you only do once. I guess my big event was back when our main program closed and I went from tenure to part time contract work. I met with the pres’ that day. I remember him saying: “Closing his program huh? We are losing a lot of experience and training here, shame to see you go. But now you’ll have more time to pursue other interests.” That must have been about 4 years ago now.