Forums about climbing

I’ve been off Facebook for a few months now. My account isn’t dead, it’s suspended…like a leave of absence. I shut it down after they were called before congress by a whistleblower. She said they were choosing profit over kindness.

In addition to this blog I’ve long been a fan of online forums about climbing. It used to be, and still can be, a way to meet climbing partners. We also share stories about our trips, discuss what gear is good or bad, read news stories of concern to climbers.

There have been many forums over the years. The first one I hung out at was cascadeclimbers.com, and that was back at the start of this century. There have been others, but the most current one is mountainproject.com. It has turned into a multipurpose website. You can also download it onto your phone and it functions as a gps enabled guidebook, no cell service required.

It’s a very robust app. You can make comments on a route while you are climbing that later get uploaded to the cloud. There is a tick list function for how well and when you have climbed something, and all that gets uploaded and shared.

As with most online forums there are a lot of angry keyboard warriors, but there are also kind and generous souls looking for like minded people to have a discussion about matters of consequence.

Recently there was a 12 page thread where the original poster (OP) asked a sincere question about whether climbing wrecked marriages. His marriage was failing so the post was written from the heart and many people responded in kind. I read about 8 pages before deciding to offer my viewpoint.

Before I get into my online response, I do sometimes wonder how rare it is that we both come from families where divorce is so rare. All 4 children of my grandma had lifetime marriages, as did she, and her parents. Of my 13 cousins, there have been 3 that have been divorced. The rest have lifetime marriages…well, at least so far, but we are all in our 60s. My brothers kids, and my kids seem normal and happily married. My sister’s kids have just started getting married.

So what is it? Is there a thread of relationship integrity that flows down through the family? Some super gene that makes us kinder than the average Joe? I’m certainly not perfect. I can get moody and mean for no reason whatsoever. Sue is usually the only one that sees it. I think/hope she has learned to live with my occasional bursts of rudeness.

I guess you could say, like any married couple, we have arguments occasionally…probably mostly because I’m being a d$ck. Like I say, not a perfect human being. Still, 90 percent of the time we get a long quite well and see eye to eye. We have different passions, but also many in common. I don’t want to hex myself by saying this…but at times it even seems the romance is still alive…well, maybe that’s going too far.

I could link to the post directly…but you can find it easily enough if you are curious.

I put a couple hours into crafting a carefully worded response. I’m posting it here to be sure it gets preserved. I have total control over this website…whereas mountainproject may or may not stand the test of time. Here  are the words from my post:

//////*****//////

Sorry to hear about the relationship challenges. I’m no marriage counselor, but I did marry my best climbing partner in 1979…and we’re still climbing together…with two grandkids now.

Having a significant other who climbs is the gold standard. Nothing beats seeing those warm eyes looking at you from the other side of the ledge. I’ve got some great climbing buddies, but it’s not the same as ‘friends with benefits’.

I remember a time about 7 years in when I was not real happy in our marriage. She was perfect: smart,  fit, strong, funny, a perfect climber babe…but something was off kilter in my head. For some dumb reason I was ready to bail. But Thursday rolled around and I was like: “Dang, I need a partner this weekend. Maybe I can put up with her for a few more days.”

On Saturday we were half way up a multipitch route, sitting on a fat ledge and not saying much. I was racking for the next pitch and happened to look over at her. Something clicked into place in my brain and I realized I was on a ledge with a very beautiful woman…and she was my woman. Climbing basically saved my marriage, over and over.

Things got harder for us when we had kids. But we were lucky to have my mom and dad nearby. They’d come on our climbing trips to babysit in the campsite. Both sets of parents were always happy to babysit for day trips. She and I would climb all day…then come back to the kids.

We had a few partners (team of 3) who could tolerate children and  managed to still take our long climbing road trips together. I knew one guy who paid his 17 year old baby sitter to come to Yosemite for a week in the station wagon so he and his wife could still climb together.

When the kids were toddlers I cut back on climbing and did a lot of windsurfing. It was almost as fun, and didn’t require a partner. The kids liked playing on the beach…and she and I could take turns sailing.

When the kids were older, we would do compromise trips where we would climb at Smith for 4 days. The kids would play at the base of the cliff, chasing lizards and stuff. Then we’d  head out to the coast. She and the kids hiked or played in the surf while I painted landscapes. We each got what we wanted…and we were together as a family.

Now that we are in our sixties, she’s cut back on hard climbing due to some back and hand problems. Poor old body is wearing out. But she still cruises 5.9 friction and loves jtree.

I still love the dirtbag life style and take several 3 week road trips each year, plus a lot of weekends. She often flies in to join me for the last week. Again, it seems that marriage is about compromise.

She loves puttering around the yard, doing her fitness walks, and helping to babysit our two grandkids. That’s sort of a family tradition at this point. But she starts to miss me after a few weeks…as I do her.

So that’s my story. I have no easy answers…other than that climbing didn’t hurt my marriage, it saved it.

/////*** A few people thanked me for writing, they were very kind. I responded as shown below **//////

To those who commented, thanks. I’ve been incredibly lucky. I sometimes wonder if it helped that my parents, and grandparents all had lifetime marriages. My wife’s family is the same way. We may have absorbed some relationship skills growing up?

Not to say you can’t learn that stuff elsewhere, from books, therapy, life…hell, I don’t know. It’s been sad watching so many marriages fall apart around us. We often know both people. And they’re usually both super smart and kind…good climbers too. Divorce seems to be the norm, and often for the best. We’ve seen many people hook up with new partners and be stronger than ever.

I didn’t mention that we also backcountry ski together, since day one. So we have both a summer and a winter sport we love to do together. She loves to hike, which I find pointless, but she’ll lure me with the promise of a good view, so I bring my easel. It’s something else we can do together.

See you out there climbing!

Turkey Climbing

I drove to Smith Wednesday. Traffic was horrible passing Fort Lewis and I getting tired by the time I reached Mt. Hood. I pulled in at a snowy trail head with a single Sprinter van parked in the quiet moonlight thinking it would be a nice calm nights sleep. I was wrong.

I drink coffee and Red Bulls to keep awake. I know it’s not wise…but it seems to be the only way to do long solo drives. Problems come when I push late into the night, trying to reach a destination…in this case, a crash spot down out of the snow…or even Smith itself.

I’d just had my last Red Bull half an hour before realizing it wasn’t helping anymore. My tiredness had overcome the caffeine. At that point I encounter something I joke about called: “Managing your pharmaceuticals”.  The situation is this: You finally pull over, too tired to drive safely anymore. Sometimes I can sleep despite the caffeine. But this night I decided a shot of whiskey as a nite cap might help me sleep.

Now, I could have left that parking lot and driven further…but the tiredness and the shot of whiskey made it unwise. I was stuck. The only solution I can see is to leave in the morning. That was my original plan, but we had family over at noon and I like hanging out with the kids.

Anyway, there I was, sitting in the back of my cozy truck until 2 in the morning watching a constant stream of jacked up 4 wheel drive’s  drifting donuts in the 8 inches of un-plowed snow. When that got boring, they’d plow thru the two foot berm and hotdog around on the snow covered lawn back by the cement outhouse. There was also a snowed in road out to a campground for the more adventurous.

There were so many of them that it must be a thing. I can imagine these self centered idiots gathering in a nearby tavern talking excitedly about this one plowed trailhead up by Mt. Hood where there is an open outhouse, lots of snow and no law enforcement.

That was a lesson learned. Earlier, on the way up past Sandy, before the snow I had driven past at least 3 normal campgrounds…all dark, calm and quiet looking. I’d hoped I could get over the snowy pass down to some quiet pull outs before Warm Springs…but it was not to be.

I met Dave and Danni at the Overflow Lot at Smith the next morning. We hiked down and climbed the red arête to the right of Purple Headed Warrior…which we also climbed. Then we “did the walk” along the base and got lucky with 5 Gallon Buckets. Someone had led it, top roped a few friends and walked away from the rope, leaving it hanging. It’s typical behavior these days at Smith.

But, to their credit, they kindly offered to pull their rope if I would rescue their draws…since their only leader in the party of 6 was leading a hard ten nearby. That worked out great for us. Danni and I both led it while Dave followed in street shoes. He has a new rule: Everything I lead he follows in street shoes. What’s ironic is I did that with Kena on some trips this summer. Street shoes are more comfortable…and what goes around comes around.

I don’t remember all the routes we did but a few stand out. We did Fridays Jinx, rapping down Pack Animal in the dark. I led the second pitch…feeling tentative but solid. I tried to hand it off to Dave, who had led the more dangerous first pitch.

“Dave, I know you haven’t led this before. If you really want the lead I will happily hand it off. You’re a good partner and I wanna’ keep you happy.”

Danni observed this little exchange: “I call that BS. Uncle Mark is scared of the pitch!”

“I’m 70 percent sure I can lead it…but the 30 percent that says I can’t  is making a lot of noise. Alright, I’ll lead it…but you’ll rescue me if I chicken out, right Dave?”

A little of my skill from Indian Creek was still in play, helping me stay focused on the excellent layback and stem moves that keep the grade at 7+.  When Dave topped out in the twilight I was surprised to see he wasn’t towing a rope for Danni. She had wisely decided to bail. Dave and I put on our headlamps and walked over to the Pack Animal rappel where Danni was waiting at the bottom to make sure we got off ok.

Dave was interested in multipitch so on the next day we took a trip up White Satin. I’ve done it with Richard and Marty (may he rest in peace), so this was my third trip up. I’ve never got it clean but it’s always exciting with enough exposure  to make your knees weak. The hardest move comes right at the end of the third pitch which is an overhanging 5.9 open book. You can get up it with good stem technique but I’m usually so terrified by that point that I’ve forgotten how to climb. The stem foot holds are often on completely vertical smears that don’t look like they’d stick.

But stepping on these vertical smears in the overhanging open book is the only way up. The jams at the crux vanish for a 3 foot section. There is a blue #3 handjam…and a rattly finger jam, but those are out of reach. I think I had to layback on a flaring pod, stembox off to the left then step up on the concealed rail off to the right. That gained me a couple crucial feet.

I pulled Dave’s blue cam out of the hand jam, stuck my left hand in there and underclinged the rattly fingers to gain access to the sandy grapefruit sized knob off to the right. I pulled on the knob and lunged up for a flaring handjam on the left…which ended the crux just as all my power drained away and Dave came into view at the belay…grinning like a banshee. What a climb!

I hate to say it but the best climb of the trip was the newish sport climb: Voyage of the Cow Dog. It starts level with the top of the 600 foot tall Ship Rock and it’s a long approach. By the time you get to the third pitch you are climbing above the massive Picnic Lunch Wall.

I led the first pitch. It  got increasingly steep on some of the most uninspiring frozen mud climbing I’ve ever seen. It looked like a vertical wall of cow sh$t got dried out and petrified.  Every bolt I checked seemed solid…despite the ugly rock. Even for Smith it’s odd because there are very few embedded stones. It’s not conglomerate like Bunny Face. And despite just being an eight, some of the moves are thin, I had to hang once because stepping on a half inch edge of frozen mud seemed so improbable. After a rest I was able to “commit to the fall”. The bolt was just below my feet…assuming it was good.

This is why I’m not a huge fan of sport climbing. You have to put your life in the hands of the kind strangers who drill the bolts. Obviously we all owe a huge debt to the climbers who put up routes. But this doesn’t mean you should put complete faith in bolts found out in the wild.

Imagine if amusement park rides were put up by average Joe’s who taught themselves welding and engineering. There is no training of the workers, no government inspections, no guarantee it’s safe. Your only comfort is that lots of people have gone before you and found the bolts to be good.

The last pitch on Cow Dog takes you to the rim on an arete with 600 feet of exposure above Picnic Lunch wall. Dave had led it and made it look easy. Following it I found the moves were all there, but you had to move right at both bulges…and right meant moving out to the edge where the exposure was unnerving. I think I can lead it next time…just have to exercise some serious mind control. But you need to get up early for Cow Dog…it’s super popular.

You can often get on trad lines when the sport is crowded. One of my Smith favorites is Lions Jaw 5.7.   I told Dave and Danni that it used to be the second route past the bridge. You’d turn left after the foot bridge and the first route you came to was Zebra Zion. Lions Jaw was second. There was nothing else. Now there are at least 40 sport routes before you get to Lion’s Jaw. It’s all ancient history now…but it’s weird to have all those memories…like ghosts in my mind of past trips down there when we were young and pretty. Lions Jaw is a super fun route. You can still lead it with all passive gear.

Twas another super fun weekend at Smiffey!

Humble Indian Creek Fall 21

The full story is below the photos if you like a written narrative.  I like to write about these trips so I can look back in the  fullness of time  and more clearly remember all the great adventures.

 

On Sunday October 24th I left for Moab. It’s all hazy now, but I think I slept in one of those truck stops that aren’t quite of the Love’s category. But they can still be good, simple gravel lots with big trucks idling all around in back of a remote gas station somewhere south of Yakima. Those guys are professional drivers and parking near them usually feels safe…as opposed to sleeping on wide spots near freeway exits. It seems like it would be pretty random to have a weirdo encounter. I mean, sure, the odds are there, but low.

The next day a huge ‘atmospheric river’ hit the freeway north of Salt Lake City. I got caught up in it while looking for a crash spot in the evening. I try not to drive at night…especially in heavy rain but all the exits said ‘no service’. It was some of the worst, scariest driving I’ve ever done. Nowhere to stop but too tired to drive. At one point I was following a semi truck and another semi passed on the left. The two of them were throwing up huge sheets of water as we all flew down the freeway at 60. I was totally blinded, might as well have not had wipers. As the big truck passed I couldn’t see any signs of the road…just rain smeared red lights. I swerved to the middle of the red glows…hoping that was the road, and that no crazy person was tail ending the trucks.

They passed, I slowed to 40 and took the next exit. Luck was with me and there was a wide turn around on a side road where I could park and sleep. It poured all night. The next day I managed to drive to Moab, camping in free BLM pland a few miles north of town.
38°41’46.4″N 109°41’21.1″W
Grand County, UT

Chad caught up to me at 10 that night, and we met Cole the next day. I’ve known Cole a couple years after hooking up at Squamish and Vegas. We stocked up on food and drove down to Indian Creek. We did a few routes that evening and lucked out with a good camp spot about halfway to Beef Basin.

Chad, me, Cole, BLM camping

We rolled in to Donnelly at 10AM. As we were packing up I noticed a solo girl sitting on her tailgate. I knew that look, having been solo many, many times back when the kids were little. Sue would babysit while I walked around with a rack and a rope hoping for a party of three that needed a 4th.

I walked near her car as I headed up to the crag.

“Morning! How’s your day going?”
“Not bad, how about you?”
“Oh, we’re headed up to get humbled.”
“Yeah, I heard you guys talking about doing some moderates. Uh, you wouldn’t happen to mind if I tagged along would you? I don’t have a partner, but I do have a rack and a rope…”

“Uhh sure, we’d be happy to have you join us.” Sam turned out to a great climber…better than me actually, especially on the smaller hand sizes. She ended up rescuing me on Generic Crack when I ran out of juice halfway up. She is the second partner I’ve met this season while climbing with parties of 3. I also met Dave in July while climbing with Fletch and Kena. Come to think of it, I met Chad while climbing in a party of 3. You can never have too many partners!

Sam, Chad

We ended up camping and climbing together for a few days. Sam is good people and blessed with small hands. I envy people with hands that size. They have access to small cracks, whereas people with big hands don’t. We did see an old guy my age down there who had huge mitts like mine. He was climbing red #1 cracks no problem…so I guess there’s hope.

Chad, Cole, Sam and I climbed at Donnelly for a couple days, doing Binou’s, Generic, Chocolate Corner, Cave Route and a couple others.

I was able to haul my big camera since we had a strong team to help carry the Creek rack. My buddy Fletch back in T-town had recently upgraded to new ultralight cams. He was kind enough to loan me a bunch of his older cams. With everyone’s rack pooled, we had 12 each of yellows and blues, 7 reds, 5 greens, four big #4’s, two 5’s and a #9 valley giant.

When we walked into the Cave Route tunnel there was a party going on with a loud boom box. It was a bunch of 20 somethings rocking out, climbing and smoking wacky tabacky. Fortunately their iPhone playlist was surprisingly good music and we hung around until they cleared out. Sam loaded up with a bunch of reds and led the 10D, followed by Chad, who flashed it effortlessly. Watching Chad was frustrating because his hands are not much smaller than mine. He can climb blue cracks and red cracks…the man is a crack wizard.

I had zero chance of leading it so took the top rope for the punishment factor. As expected, I couldn’t get either hands or feet in the crack. I’m simply too big. It’s perfect reds…about and inch and an eighth. (1.125″). I could get a painful ring lock and a foot smear but that was it. With Chad hauling and me grunting up a storm I made it to the anchor. The secret to climbing reds continues to elude me.

We went to Power wall on the third day. We did Batteries not Included and the Unnamed 9+, plus one other mellow 9 off to the right. Fletch and I had spotted the 9+ in the spring, so it was super fun to get on it and find that it’s totally climbable.

Me on the Unamed 9+, Photo by Sam

Full Disclosure: I didn’t get many climbs clean this trip. After 4 trips I’ve realized that hang dogging routes at Indian Creek is just how you get up stuff. Unless you are a local…or a wizard like Chad…taking rests on long splitters is sort of normal down there.

After Cole and Sam left, Chad and I took a rest day. I painted while he drove to town for provisions. I explored a long dirt road out towards Bridger Jacks. The sun angle cooperated for a few hours and I did a fun Monotone oil painting using mainly Iron Oxide brown.

Bridger Jacks Monotone

I also got stung by something bad. It was inside my shirt and bit me twice while I was driving. I never saw it but some locals told me it might have been a scorpion. I swelled up huge and started to worry that I might need an Epipen.  Fortunately my inReach allowed me to text my daughter. She consulted her nursing book, and or the internet and told me what to watch out for. I was an hour from a hospital…and it never did more than swell up and blister….but it was ugly for about a week. It’s a month later now and I still have a pea sized lump at the site of the bite.

The day after the bite I tried to lead Chocolate Corner. I’d got it clean in the spring…but hung all over it this time. It was like someone had stolen my brain. I couldn’t find the smears on the right. I don’t know if it was bad shoes or the infection from the scorpion bite.

At the anchors I was wheezing like an old horse, trying to get a full breath of air. The cowboy on the route to my right looked over at me:
“Dude, nice work on that!”
“I didn’t get it clean, not a real proud send.”
“Oh, man, don’t worry about it. Anyone who can walk up to a route at the creek, especially 67 years old, and get up it…you did great man!”

That was nice to hear. Climbers at the creek are kind. The place can be humbling. Chad and I had some great evenings around the propane campfire. He used to be a professional drummer and gave me some tips on how to improve the guitar part on Blackbird. He picked up the guitar a couple years ago and has quite a gift for complex picking patterns.

We went back to Donnelly and led Incredible Hand Crack, Twin Cracks,  Triple Jeopardy, Pringles and Super Crack.

I was shocked to lead IHC clean this time. I sailed up to the crux with no problem…placed a yellow and a blue in the overhang, then down climbed about 10 feet to a no hands rest. At no time did I weight the rope…so I’m calling it clean.

Once I committed to the roof moves it was surprisingly solid. There is practically a shelf in the overhanging crack for your feet as you commit. I was glad I’d taped, hands fit perfectly. There is about a body length of overhanging jamming before the crack tapers a bit. I found a perfect wrist lock bone jam there. Plenty good for a rest and to walk up a yellow. A few more moves led to a nice foot stem rest on the left. After that it backs down to vertical 5.7 hand jamming…cakewalk!
Chad led Supercrack later that day at Twilight. I chose not to follow it as I’d led it in the Spring with Cole and found it to be an endurofest. Fun at first…but it’s just so long you run out of juice halfway up. Or maybe that’s just me being so darn old and weak.

The next day Chad flashed the 5.11b Scarface.

Chad flashing Scarface

I led “Where’s Carruthers” next door, finding it fun but harder than 5 years ago when Daphne and I were here.

We took another rest day after that…sleeping in and driving up to Moab. The next day we climbed at Wall Street right in town. Chad led Bad Moki Roof:

Bad Moki Roof 5.9

I was nervous following it but the undercling was very positive and helped by a decent foot rail. I think I’ll try leading it next visit. We found some slab climbing a few blocks to the left and did a few routes but the Friday crowds were showing up so we bailed.

I drove to Vegas and picked up Sue. It was so nice to see my little lady standing at Arrivals after two weeks apart. We camped at Lovell which is 40 minutes out of Vegas but very quiet on BLM land. The next day Sue and I climbed everything on Panti Wall. I love those closely bolted face climbs. There are at least 5 routes 5.8 and under. Super fun sport climbing. Sadly though, her thumb was not liking it so we bailed South West toward Joshua Tree where there is more leaning over friction.

On the way across we stopped at an old historic inn on Route 66: Roy’s Motel and Cafe. It’s not open anymore…but it’s weirdly preserved as a sort of museum. We bought a couple coffees from the cafe guy. We’d slept in BLM land just to the North, so it was cool to be back in civilization if only for a short while on the long drive down empty desert roads.

We drove up to Josh at 10 in the morning and did the walk around the campground. We couldn’t believe our luck when we stumbled upon an empty site just uphill from Bearded Cabbage. It was a Monday morning but still, that is real beginners luck to get a Hidden Valley campsite first try.
We hiked over to Penny Lane at Echo in the morning. It has close bolts to start but then becomes a bit run out for that last two bolts to the anchor. It’s standard fare at Josh to have run outs on friction…but that’s not to say I was used to it. Next we did the 8 in Echo Cove before deciding it was time for a shower.

We parked the truck on a dirt road up past Barker Dam. There wasn’t much traffic so we just showered under the solar tube at the back of the truck…one keeping watch while the other showered. Over the next couple of days Sue and I cruised up some of the standards: Toe Jam, Double Cross, Sexy Grandma, etc. It was fun and relaxing climbing, and super fun hanging out with Sue, my oldest climbing partner dating back to 1977. She’s still got the moves.

Sexy Grandma

By Thursday I was looking at 18 days of climbing and decided I’d had enough. Plus the weekenders were crowding into Josh and it just wasn’t as fun as it should have been. I probly needed a rest day…but Sue had commitments at home so it made sense to start the long drive home a little early.

I like climbing in November. I think it might have some advantages over December…mainly being more moderate temps and less crowded.

More climbing less posting

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.

 

Bridge poem by Ted Kooser

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

Hag Crag – Free sheet music

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.

Here is the link to my sheet music folder:

https://websterart.com/songs-pdf/

Rose at the point

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.

Didn’t see Elvis

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.

 

Zion, St. George and Jtree

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.