Since I wrote last I’ve been on two, week long road trips and numerous day trips to Index. James and I spent 5 days at Index climbing moderates. And just two days ago I returned from a solo trip to the City where I met 10 new ‘over 50’ partners in a Mountain Project event. It was a week long event and I had a great time climbing with new friends, some in their mid seventies.
I led all the standard moderates, both trad and sport. Highlights were Sinocranium with a party of grey and white haired folks. Who needs young people?
My best lead was the run out 5.9 Mystery Bolter route down at Flaming Rock. I also got to dance up Rain Dance, in the rain.
Tuesday I painted the mountain with Sue. She always drags me out hiking the minute I get back from a road trip. I’ll be suffering major jetlag from the drive and she’ll be like:
“Let’s go hiking, you can bring your paints!”
I was hiking with a major bad attitude up there, cursing life in general. But the mountain worked it’s magic. The Red Bull that I hauled up didn’t hurt either. First time I’ve tried to paint after one of those nasty brews.
I was really shocked to see the painting coming to life. We got a late start, so I had to rush the pen work, making copious structural errors. I finished most of it from 2:30 to 4:30. It’s not bad for a 2 hour rush job.
Fleeing from a wildfire while climbing on Washington Pass
Sue and I used to alpine climb in the early eighties but gave it up after some near miss epics and the tragic loss of some close friends. I’ve been hearing how great Washington Pass was becoming. It’s even got a glossy guidebook and has been described as: “Like Castle Rock, but with a 2 hour approach”. I figured, hell, I haven’t used crampons and an ice ax in 36 years, time to get back on the horse.
Kena and I met our new friend D. at noon at the Silverstar Mountain, Wine Spires trailhead, 3 miles east of Liberty Bell. Four hours later after 2500 vertical feet of the worlds worst climber trail we arrived at the mosquito infested Bench Camp. It was flat, with a nice water supply and would have been idyllic if not for the bugs.
Remembering my shiver bivys of the 1980’s I’d brought a down coat with a space blanket for my legs. It was hot until 1 AM, at which point I was too tired to unfold the space blanket. Seriously, has anyone ever tried to unfold one of those half asleep and freezing?
We left high camp at 6 AM and arrived at Burgundy Col a couple hours and 1400 vertical feet later. I didn’t think the trail could get any worse…but it did. At the Col, Kena put on crampons for the first time, while I put on my son’s crampons.
D. belayed us both down the couloir with his 7.5mm 60 meter twin. We roped up glacier style for the rest of the ascent up to the base of the climb, passing several 60 foot cliff bands. Kena was a natural on snow, and it gradually started to feel familiar to me as well.
We climbed two pitches of the East Face of Chablis before bailing around 2:30. Kena and I were worried about the long descent to high camp. Plus the fire below was getting much bigger despite the efforts of a fleet of water bombers and helicopters.
Much of what was slowing me down was caution. There’s no cell service up there. If there had been an accident, someone would have had to rappel and then hike solo across steep snow and bad trails for at least 7 hours to reach a car. Then it’s 17 miles to cell service. It’s a far cry from a casual day at Index.
After a couple hours of up and down ‘glacier travel’, we arrived at Burgundy Col where we could unrope and take off our crampons. As an amusing side note, we were passed on the steep snow by an unroped one legged guy who was descending from a successful ascent of a 10B climb called Rebel Yell. He had both legs, but one was metal from the hip down. The dude was freaking amazing!
In the twilight we could see huge bright orange California style flames racing up the mountain side below us. They were on a ridge coming down off of Silver Star…which was adjacent to Chablis Spire. It looked like a wind change could have the fire on top of us long before we could reach the car.
We guessed that the fire wouldn’t cross to our side of the ridge and started down the awful trail towards high camp. We were dead tired when we reached our tent at 10:30 PM, but right there on the main trail was a brand new sign. The rangers had hiked 2500 vertical feet up from the road to post it: “Leave immediately, do not delay! There is an uncontrolled fire approaching Burgundy Col. The road will close soon, you could be trapped.”
We discussed maybe sleeping until the fire arrived, then running for a nearby boulder field where there weren’t any trees. Common sense prevailed. We packed up and stumbled down, getting lost multiple times where trees had fallen over the trail and arriving at the road at 2:30 in the morning. It appears that alpine climbing hasn’t gotten any safer over the intervening decades.
I was recently at Vantage with a friend. We are old friends going back 14 years, but she prefers to climb with women. We met a really nice climbing couple by Air Guitar. The girl was burly strong and super fit so my friend asked if she ever climbed with other partners. She mentioned that she usually climbs with women.
Then she glanced at me and said: “Well, except for Mark here, but he’s almost a girl anyway, so he doesn’t count.”
“That’s going in the trip report!” I said with a chuckle.
Fletch and I were talking about growing older at the gym and I remembered this old poem.
Again this morning, in a cold wind from the future, I walked all the way to the end of the long bridge of my life, having a look at its cables, its rods and rivets, its perforated metal flooring through which I could see whitecaps slamming the pylons. Then I turned and came back, inspecting it all from the other direction, fretting about every hex nut and bolt though they seem sound enough to hold things together. I ought to give the long bridge of my life a little rest, but every day it seems I’m walking from past to possibility and back to past with my brush and aluminum paint, hiding the rust, the deepening cracks, dabbing a shine here and there. ~ Ted Kooser, November
Climbed z corner at hag crag. It’s a tough 5.7 on which I should bring many more hand sizes from #5 to green.
Got up Toxic Shock cleanly and Battered Sandwich. Super fun climbing with Ben, Kena and D. Wood.
I’ve nailed down Perfect by Ed Sheeran. It does need a capo (up 1) if you wan to play along with Ed.
I keep all my sheet music guitar chords up on my server. If you search online, you can find chords that are quite close, but they always have problems. It’s a crowd sourced website, meaning people like you and me upload what they think are the correct chords. Consequently, there are usually errors, and almost always the chords don’t fit on one sheet of paper.
I fix all the problems. Anything up on my website has been tested multiple times around climbing campfires.
I’ve been climbing every three or four days for weeks now, basically since returning from Utah. Yesterday Chris and I went to Index. It was raining hard so we continued over to Domestic Dome where we both led Ranch Style. Then she led the 9 to the right. It’s the one that has an undercling beneath a one foot overlap. You shove a 9mm cam under the roof, 6 feet above your last bolt. Then you undercling the thin crack with sketchy feet on a steep slab. You keep inching your feet up while the fingertips get worse and worse. Finally you can reach the bolt above the roof and you have to do a horrible cross though…but your stance is so unstable I could barely touch the bolt. I have know idea how she kept it together clipping that bolt.
Later I led Dogleg cleanly. I love that move! You place your gear, rest on the fingerlocks, then step up with the left toe into the toe jam. Stand, then reach high to an ok, but not great hand jam. You pull, bump up the left foot on the crack, then throw for a high hand jam. This barndoors you off to the right, but the friction right foot is do-able as you grab for a yellow cam. At that point you are 6 feet above the last cam…it’s rather intense climbing. Super fun route!
I have a photo of Sue leading it in 1979 with hexes.
Clint and Jamie invited us to hike Point Defiance. They brought Rose down the steep dirt trails on the bluff to the beach.
I started my Spring trip by driving solo down to Vegas. There was a long stretch where 93 turns to 6 south of Ely where there was no cell service. I remember pulling over at an intersection. My maps app had died, the no stoplight town was long dead and abandoned. I had no idea which road to take at the Y junction. I got out my paper Atlas map of the country and figured that South was a good guess and drove. Fortunately I had a full tank of gas.
I got up on a pass where it was snowing lightly and pulled over. Still no cell service. Before leaving town I’d installed my HF ham radio in the Tundra. I got out, tuned the antenna to the twenty meter frequency band and spun the dial on my Icom IC-7300. I heard a couple guys in New Hampshire having a friendly competition to talk to every grid square (sort of like counties) in the country. It’s like Bingo, they color in their paper map as they talk to the grid squares. I told them I was in Nevada and they got all excited.
“Where are you in central Nevada? We don’t have any grid squares because no one lives there!”
“I know, I’m driving down a random highway and haven’t seen a soul for hours!”
“Can you look up your location on your phone?”
“No cell service, I’m glad I have this ham radio.”
I continued to talk to those guys, and a dozen others as I racked up the dusty deserted miles in my trusty Tundra. It was really cool to be able to reach out into the invisible airwaves in the absence of a cell signal.
As I pulled into Vegas Aaron invited me to drop by for dinner and some music. He plays banjo and is an old Tacoma friend going back 8 years. We got up in the morning and climbed the 5.7 Group Therapy route to the left of Purblind Pillar. It had a long 7 inch chimney that had me wishing for more big gear.
The next day I hooked up with Kena, Tony and Cole for Cat in the Hat. The last two pitches were intimidating as I was so rusty. Cole led the last (4th?) pitch with the bolted runnout. That took me to Monday and I needed a rest day. Two days of driving followed by two, long approach multipitch routes had me hammered.
I did a bad painting in the afternoon, and activated Red Rocks in the morning with my Icom 7300, making about 25 contacts. The next day the four of us hiked up to do Johnny Vegas. We found a slow moving party of 3 women doing a NOLS training climb and bailed to Solar Slabs Chimney. It turns out they weren’t that slow, but you have to go with your gut in those situations. The chimney was super fun and relaxing climbing. At the top the sun was blazing down and we bailed.
I’m having trouble remembering what I did every day now, it being 5 weeks in the past. Kena and Tony and I continued climbing. We had a splendid day at Physical Graffiti, one of the best 3 pitch 5.6’s anywhere. We also did one of the pitches of Big Bad Wolf 5.9 sport. Then Tony left Thursday to be replaced with Pamela, another OB/GYN doctor and we three climbed at Panty Wall.
On the weekend, Aaron was off again and we climbed Ragged Edges, a two pitch 8? that was uber cool. By Monday, everyone had flown home or gone back to work so I drove toward to Moab to meet Fletch who was off work Wednesday evening. I stopped near St. George and activated a random state park on the way. Ham radio is a fun diversion. The wind almost broke my antenna again. I picked up Fletch at Grand Junction airport in Colorado after camping two nights at Courthouse Rock. We met up with Lisa and Brian and drove to Beef Basin. I led Generic Crack with some hangs…it’s so long! I should have taped. My crack gloves were too thick. I followed Chocolate Corner and a few others.
In the morning we drove all the way back through Moab to the famous Fisher Towers Ancient art route. I’d been hearing about Fletches adventures with our friends there for at least a decade. It looked extremely intimidating in photos. I’d heard it described as climbing mud, rotten everywhere, with loose bolts a plenty. But it was actually reasonably safe, for a desert tower.
Fletch backed off the last pitch. I couldn’t blame him, it looked extremely dangerous. I decided to go take a look, since he’d already clipped the first 3 bolts. There was no way I was going to stress those bolts on that weak tower with a lead fall. I french free’d all of them, even added two cams to get to the top.
That took us to Sunday and Fletch decided to go to work. I dropped him in Moab and met Cole. This was kind of a pattern. I’d wear out a couple partners and new ones would drive or fly in to replace the old ones. I never stopped climbing for 3 weeks. Well, I did take a few rest days to paint, and one was forced on me by rain…but yeah, I basically never stopped hustling the whole trip.
Cole and I climbed at Donnely where I led Chocolate Corner clean (Yes!) and Supercrack not clean. Then it rained and I did a nice painting at Beef Basin. Next day I painted Delicate Arch, Cole left and I picked up Fletch from work and we climbed Castleton Tower in a 17 hour day. Young people do Ancient Art and Castleton in a day…but wait until they are 67…well see how many linkups they can pull then.
We were tanked after that and headed home with a brief stop at The City where I led (finished) Rye Crisp. We were both clearly done with climbing. When I got home I started to spend some time with my grandaughter Rose. Sue likes to babysit her. I’m starting to warm to her also. She seems to tolerate me fairly well.
I’ve been up to Rainier once and did a great painting with pen and Gouache.
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 not written in a month. My interest in keeping this journal goes in cycles. I guess the main reason is that I enjoy reading older entries. So much of life races by and gets forgotten. Only the big events stick in memory. Having this journal is a way to check in 10 years later and have something concrete to read. I read these old entries and say, oh yeah, I remember that. Otherwise they’d be lost forever.
Starting with the most recent things:
Sue and I camped at Vantage in our new rig and hooked up with Fletch, Lisa G. and Vitaly. I jumped on Steel Grill since it was the only thing open in my price range. The place was packed, biggest crowds I’ve ever seen. It was a Saturday, and the only dry crag in the state, still, those crowds were not sustainable.
I did OK on the lower section of Steel Grill. It’s just reachy crack climbing. But the crux stopped me cold for at least 20 minutes. I finally was able to jam in a good #1 red above me. It requires a lot of up and down to get comfortable in a spot where you can place the high red. After that I had to hang, and slowly put a layback together with Fletch giving me tension. I totally cheated…but at least I got past the crux.
I need to trust that layback early. It’s only two steps with a great edge to pull on and then you rocker in on your feet and Bob’s your uncle. I would benefit from three number fours, 4 #2’s and 3 blues. The five would be heavy but useful on the move above the crux out of the last pod.
After our day of climbing we had a jam session around our propane firepit. Must have been 15 people from the gym. It was so nice to just hangout normally like the old pre-covid days. We all felt safe around the fire because the wind was blowing hard and not much chance of disease in the air. About half the people there were nurses or doctors. It’s crazy how this sport attracts medical people. I had to drive home in the dark afterward in the new rig, so I abstained from imbibing. Sue said Fletch and I performed our campfire songs better than usual…perhaps being totally sober was the reason.
In other news, Chad talked me into a Track saw. Much more convenient than a table saw. I love the way it’s just like cutting matts for framing paintings. We also just today bought a Mr. Buddy propane heater to keep the canopy warm while winter camping. Craig and Ken D. both have one in their rigs. The canopy is water tight, even at highway speeds. I think we made a good decision. And at only 100 pounds while being high enough for us both to walk around in, plus Toyota reliability…gotta love it.
I painted at Paradise a couple weeks ago. It’s unfinished, I’ll post pictures later. I also bought some German cobbler glue. I used it to fix a de-laminating problem on my new custom rock shoes. I sanded and scraped off (razor blade) the old glue with lacquer thinner and lighter fluid. I brushed on a single coat, let it dry 30 minutes then heated it up for a minute with a hair dryer. This activates the glue…making it sticky again. I put the shoe on , then stepped into a block of that kayak brace foam until the glue cooled down…about 5 minutes. I took the shoe off and used finger pressure to smoosh it down even more. This guy explains it well:
Sue and I had planned to leave for Lovers Leap on the 18th after getting our new canopy installed. We were going to hook up with Chad who would have just finished up a week at Yosemite with Annie, Brian and Liz. However, Chad was on his way down two weeks ago and couldn’t get past Centralia due to bad smoke from the Eugene Oregon fires.
He stopped by our house to drop off a coat of mine. I was sewing my new leather hat and we discussed options. I mentioned that the City looked relatively smoke free…and we could possibly bring our plans back to life by going there. I had plans to climb with Kena on Sunday but was free after that.
So off we went Sunday night, crashing at midnight up a dirt road on Swauk pass, then getting to the City Monday at 6pm. Highlights of the City were my cruise up Private Idaho, and a couple 9 and 10b slab leads at Lost World. Sun and smoke were a problem, but it was still awesome as always.
We climbed hard until we woke up Wednesday, 9 days later and realized we needed a rest day, plus that BLM road was getting irritating in my two wheel truck. The ruts are a full two feet deep. But rather than a rest day, we decided to spend it driving closer to home. We drove to Smith, arriving at 10pm to a half empty Grasslands. I led Outsider and second pitch of Pack Animal while Chad led two 11’s at Morning Glory: Zebra seam and Lion’s Chair. Not sure of those names…
He also led Pack Animal Direct, which I fell off of at the top. It was totally covered in Guano. The Covid shutdown has brought back the nesting birds. I had to rest following him up Karate before the traverse. I blame that on the lack of gym power. Can’t be that I’m getting older.
I got home Friday. Today I sewed a beaded hat band for my new leather hat, which survived the two week road trip in perfect shape. I chose to use a pattern size of Medium, since I was in the low side of that hat size at: 22.6 inches. Turns out, that made a hat too small. But my experience with leather phone cases told me that leather can always stretch…though shrinking is less likely. Almost twice a day I had to sponge water on the hat opening and wear it too tight. Finally, it is starting to remember my big head.
Just in case though, I ordered a hat stretcher from Amazon. It was really awesome seeing Sue today. We are both very independent people…but absence does make the heart grow fonder. I wish dad was alive to see my hat and hear all the family news. He would be proud. Pictures to follow later .
I’ve been having some challenges finding partners who have more one or two days available. But bless the stars above, out of the blue I heard from James. We’ve been on many the long trip over the 14 years since we took that first Jtree trip with Austin and Brett.
We left on Sunday around 10 and arrived at 1pm the next day. We stopped to sleep near Shasta Lake in a city park outside of Redding. It was sketchy, but at least there were no signs forbidding camping. I might of slept a couple hours….kept worrying about getting busted.
We did some exploratory hiking the next day. I’ve been there 3 times but could barely remember anything other than Bears Reach, Corrugation and Haystack Crack.
We ended up climbing all of those plus East Crack, which is a much safer start to Bears Reach. We discovered a ton of stuff over on the Hogsback. Ham and Eggs was a standout with 4 pitches at 5.6.
I backed off Corrugation Corner 40 years ago but got it clean this trip. It’s a 5.7 that feels like 10B due to exposure and runnouts. 50 year old bent pitons are considered ‘good protection’. The trad ethic is in full swing down there. They don’t even allow bolted anchors or rap stations.
I’ve had a few nibbles on my blue car. We parked it in front of the house with a for sale sign. Someone test drove it today and seemed to like it.