I think it’s pretty easy to find great gifts for climbing and/or outdoor loving Dads but I thought I’d highlight a few that caught my eye and would make some pretty good gifts year round!
Black Diamond Camalot Ultralights
These are great! I love giving people my blue #3, letting them heft it and then handing them my Ultralight #3. The result is usually… “Wow!”. Check them out here.
Five Ten Tennies
If your Dad is Old School or likes the vibe, get him a new pair of the re-introduced Five Ten, Tennies the classic approach shoe! Take a peep here.
Slim Clip Phone Case
This phone case is slim enough to just clip onto a waistband. So Dad can run, hike, or work out without holding it in hand, or needing a separate case or holder for his phone. See the Slim Clip Cases here.
So what do you say when invited to be second camera for a shoot in a well known climbing area half way acress the country that you’ve never been to? You say, “Yes, I want to go!” Even if you don’t know when it might happen, and even if it just so happens to end up being the same week that you’ve already taken a day off to make it a three day weekend trip to Red Rocks, Nevada.
So it was that I found myself bound for the land of Muhummad Ali, green hills, Bourbon, and the Red River Gorge. The shoot was for the American Alpine Club and Adidas Outdoor and I had just had the good fortune to have just been accepted as an Adidas Outdoor Grassroots Ambassador so I was there doing double duty. The main on-camera talent consisted of Adidas athletes, Molly Mitchell and Kai Lightner, and American Alpine Club Education Manager, Ron Funderburke. We were there to shoot a video for the ACC’s Know the Ropes series with help from Erik Kloekker, Muir Valley volunteer and a local climbing guide.
From the parking area for Muir Valley, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, you can’t see anything that would clue you into the climbing potential of the place. Instead, there are chalked space lines and a rain shine shelter with tables, computers and papers for waivers, and a vending machine that promises the bubbly drink of choice for the area, Ale8, a ginger ale / citrus soda concoction that I’ve been told is great for mixed drinks.
From the parking area, the path to the crags was well maintained, not very steep, and there were signs at each juncture for various cliffs. When we arrived at our destination for the day, Drive-By Crag, I was impressed by the height and steepness of the climbs. The rock look featured enough, but challenging nonetheless. First bolts were stick-clip high and I found myself thinking I really should make/get myself one since I’d had the same thought when I went to Smith Rock.
After getting several scenes in the can and getting inspired by Kai and Molly basically gliding up steep routes, including Easy Rider 5.13c, Ted and I found ourselves with some free time when Ron had to leave to take Kai and Molly to the airport. The weather was still wet enough that it had been hard to tell throughout the day whether or not it was raining, or if we were just hearing the sounds of a few small waterfalls created from earlier rain fall. The crag was still quite crowded, and included a group of kids that Molly had coached before. I was jet lagged from the combination of my red-eye flight and long car ride and was not quite sure how I’d fare onsighting something. We did find a route that was supposed to be 10b with draws on it already. The first bolt didn’t seem to require a stick clip so I got on it. The start was a little deceptive but I got the first bolt. All well and good but what happened then was I got too set on a hand jam I had found (yes, I found a hand jam on a sport route) and I knew the next move was actually supposed to be a jug above me but that the steepness of the climb was already messing with my head. The combination of moving up above the bolt and possibly falling backwards did not sit well with me and I could only guess how tired I’d be further up the route. I backed off. Not my proudest moment. Ted and I moved along the cliff wall to another 10b I had eyed earlier. There was a group at it but since there wasn’t much choice of routes that were in my onsight range, Ted and I decided to relax a bit and wait and watch. The leader on the route was about two thirds of the way up when she fell, turned upside down, and continued to fall a few more feet. It was a rather dramatic fall. Various people called out, “Are you ok?” She came down and checked herself. She was a bit shaken up, but minor scrapes and bruises were the final tally. I did feel I didn’t want to lead the climb though so asked another person in the group if they wouldn’t mind giving us a ride on their rope. They didn’t mind but the plan changed to one of them leading with our gear so that they could leave and another in their group would just use our stuff to get a top rope climb in before they too left. During this conversation, we were asked how long we’d been at the Gorge. Ted answered it was our first day climbing, and in fact our first climb here. The gal we talked to look surprised, “Well, you picked a stout wall to start!”
The next day the weather had changed considerably. It was no longer cold and rainy but on the sunny side. Ted, Ron, and I joined up again with Erik and we went about getting scenes done for the video. I was called upon to also act in it so I guess you’ll see me in the final video. In the course of getting our shots we needed a rope up at times so we got to climb a little. Once I got on these routes, I understood why the gal the other day had been surprised we were starting at Drive-By Crag. These crags had more variety: a larger warm up range of climbs, different heights, and steepness.
We capped off the day with a stop at Skybridge Station for a cold one before getting back to make dinner at the cabin. We were invited to Trivia night but were having guests for dinner so had to decline. Here I was miles from home but still making friends and even meeting a friend’s family. In other contexts people might say to never mix business and pleasure or your social circles but I’ve found that climbing / outdoor folks often do so with great results.
The next day it was my turn to leave to catch a plane before the day was over. I had to get myself to Louisville International Airport. Luckily we cranked out some scenes and had time for me to lead something finally. It was just a 5.7 but it felt good. I also got to top rope some harder routes, finishing my climbs with Little Viper on Bruise Brothers Wall and letting me leave directly from the area with a smile on my face and pumped forearms. So long Kentucky, I hope to be back soon!
This past weekend, I took a day off and shot out to go climb in Red Rocks, Nevada. My friend Michelle had grabbed a group campsite months ago and had invited friends out and I’d gone ahead and asked for time off to make a 3 day weekend. My goal (which had been stymied the last time we did a group camp here) was to finally finish Ginger Cracks (5.9, 955 feet, 7 pitches). Years ago I had been on it in a party of three but we had bailed for reasons based on weather and fatigue.
I’m happy to say my friend Eric and I pulled it off this weekend with relatively small glitches: had to wait for a party of three we had not seen waiting at the base during our approach hike and Eric at first took a wrong chimney but quickly realized it. The weather was overcast during our morning hike in which made it tolerable and rather pretty. We came upon a group of deer who didn’t seem too concerned about us. We found the trail easily enough by following our guidebook beta and it seemed to take us the predicted hour and a half to get to the base from the parking area.
The climb itself was fun and varied, requiring a variety of gear (cams up to a Black Diamond 4, and nuts) and techniques (crack, chimney, face crimps, and traversing skills). The movement was fun and interesting and the views spectacular. I had originally planned to lead some pitches but seeing as we had not just one but two parties of three ahead of us, and hopes to get down before dark, I talked myself out of leading (though I almost took a higher pitch we thought might be the 5.0/5.2 pitch but turned out to be the crux!). I was happy to follow though. As I climbed I thought about how fortunate I was to be able to climb; to have access and the ability to get on something this great even though it had been awhile since I’d been a multi-pitch this tall, this hard, and with this long (and tiring) of an approach hike.
All I could do was smile as I climbed higher, the shade following me up the pitches and keeping me from overheating. We did have to wait sometimes for belay stations to clear and as the day progressed Eric and I both put on light jackets. A very light sprinkle, and thunder accompanied our last pitch but both ended before we finished our descent rappels.
Though we finished our rappels while there was still light, our hike out was in the dark which made it more challenging in terms of finding the right way to go and in staying upright on the steep and sometimes loose terrain. We eventually made it with only a few, quickly corrected wrong turns.
As far as multi-pitch climbs go, it went incredibly smoothly and yet, I felt a great sense of adventure and accomplishment. We in the climbing community sometimes make a lot of noise about first ascents, speed ascents, free soloing, and pushing the limits but I think every climber knows what the public may not – that most every climb for us can give us a quiet pleasure and the enjoyment of experiencing a climb and touching rock. When we topped out on the last pitch and looked out on the wilderness we had hiked through, I smiled again. How fortunate we all are.
Black Diamond, long known for their climbing hardwear, joined the ranks of climbing rope makers a few years ago. I was provided a Black Diamond 9.9 60m rope and I’ve been using it as my main climbing rope for a few months now.
I chose the 9.9 to review partly because it seemed to be a good “if you could only have one rope for years” type of rope. Meaning, I wanted a rope that:
1. I could trust
2. would take some abrasion abuse (I climb a fair amount in Joshua Tree National Park)
3. would work in a reasonable amount of belay devices
4. would be a decent trade off between having the qualities of 1 and 2 but also be long enough to do most climbs / pitches and
5. wouldn’t break the bank with its price point.
According to Black Diamond their ropes aim to “strike the perfect balance between weight, durability and handling, Black Diamond ropes feature a unique combination of weave and sheath [the 9.9 uses a 2×2 weave construction] that’s merged to create a cord that’s supple yet not too soft. This construction enhances the ropes’ ability to knot and feed through your belay device easily, without sacrificing longevity.”
So have they accomplished this goal?
I used this rope on sandstone at Echo Cliffs and Texas Canyon, on the famously gritty quartz monzonite of Joshua Tree National Park (and at Alabama Hills which has the same rock), and on the granite of Yosemite. It was used for both top rope and leading (and for multipitch in Yosemite).
A total of 12 people used the rope.
The first thing everyone seemed to notice was that the rope was fairly supple, and seemed smooth and a little slick. For my friends used to using thicker, older ropes, they noticed the slickness but easily adjusted to using it in a first generation Grigri. I noticed the slickness right away and thought it was great for tieing in however I did feel like I had to watch it when using my Trango Cinch. The sleekness was barely noticeable when using my Petzl Universo (think Verso permanently attached to a carabiner if you aren’t familiar with that device). It performed similarly in the Black Diamond Guide as well.
Endurance / Longevity
The rope is not as bright blue anymore – it’s quite dirty now. However, aside from discoloration, it otherwise has that smooth look of a new rope – no snags, no lumps, no unevenness. I have appreciated the suppleness of the rope when using it during trad leads and in creating rope anchors. It hasn’t lost the suppleness nor its dynamic qualities but I’ve only been using it a few months, not years so we’ll see as time goes on but for now I do think it will have great longevity and the handling of the rope is great.
A clear winner for me is the weight and size of the rope when carried either backpack style or in a rope bag or a backpack. I own a Petzl 9.8 60m but the Black Diamond 9.9 seems smaller and more compact, more than the .1 diameter difference would account for. When comparing the Black Diamond 9.9 to other diameter options, I think the trade off for the diameter of the rope versus having a lighter, skinnier rope is worth it. If you mainly do longer routes or like combining pitches for multi-pitch climbs, I’d consider the 9.4 70m instead, or perhaps even the 80m (assuming you have specific climbs in mind and it won’t be your one and only rope).
I’ve already mentioned that some climbers had to adjust to using the rope in their Grigri – but this may be the newness of the rope, and in the case of one climber – it was the skinniest rope he’d ever used. Still, be mindful of use if you have an older device where 9.9 is on the narrow end of its use.
I had a small issue with the middle mark, it is simply a small section colored black. When the rope was brand spanking new – practically glowing electric blue – it was pretty easy to notice this mark but once the rope got even a little dirty, it was much harder to spot. I love the convenience of the reverse pattern ropes to show you the two halves of a rope but understand that’s a bit costly. However, I have seen ropes with warning stripes before the middle mark, I would have liked to see that on this one as well.
Lastly, a small “con” – when I received the rope I didn’t do any special uncoiling or laying out of the rope, and I did notice it get a bit kinky during the first top rope routes, however it settled down pretty quickly.
The Black Diamond 9.9 60m (also available as a 70m) is a versatile rope that does the job without breaking your back.
More Tech Specs:
Rope Type : Single
UIAA Factor Falls : 6 Weight Per Meter : 64 g (2.3 oz)
How many climbing spots can you cram into a 4 day trip that starts in California’s Central Coast and hits Yosemite? Well that was what I wanted to find out. My friend Vina had invited me to go with her to Yosemite to take advantage of an invitation to stay at her friend’s tiny house in Oakhurst. Not exactly Yosemite, but much closer than coming from Ventura! I agreed, and we soon came up with a plan to get to Oakhurst in a roundabout way that I’ve dubbed the “Sierra Circle”… via stops at Alabama Hills (neither of us had climbed there before), Tuolumne, Yosemite Valley, and then to either Fresno Dome or Shuteye Ridge. Little did I know that this trip would become a test and highpoint in my re-entry to climbing experience.
Drove from Ventura to Lone Pine, arriving in the afternoon, and ate at an unpretentious restaurant. Vina wanted to buy a helmet so we went into the climbing shop across the street. While there I asked if it was too hot to climb at Alabama Hills and was told it would be pretty hot, 104 earlier. What climbers usually did was hold off until 5 pm to climb but there were a few places in shade. We didn’t want to wait until five to climb but decided to spend some time grocery shopping to miss some of the heat. It was my first time driving in Alabama Hills and I wasn’t sure how my Honda Fit (2008 Sport) would fare on the dirt roads. The friendly gal at the shop had advised us to check out the Corridors area as a good chance to find routes in the shade so we hoped to camp near there as well. I drove Fitting (yes, I’ve named my car) out on the dirt roads and after a bit of wandering loops we came to a section I thought would be too hard for it. I wisely did not attempt this and put it in reverse; unfortunately, I hit a sand spot and my front wheel dug in. Vina got out and changed shoes, readying to push my car. A climber nearby saw our predicament and helped out as well. He explained he’d gotten a rental car stuck in the same place. Thankfully it wasn’t that hard to get unstuck and I decided to pretty much set up camp right after we got my car turned around on more solid ground. We were close enough to walk to the Corridors and the Lost Eye to the Moon formation the gal in the shop had said would be in the shade (she was right) and got on them. The routes turned out to be good, confidence building onsight routes for me and Vina did a lead there too. The quality of the rock was excellent and was comprised of quartz monzonite same rock that’s out in Joshua Tree. After climbing, we ate some dinner while looking out at the great views one could see in many old Western films. Vina tucked into her tent and I took some long exposure shots but was I too tired to really work at it (and found light pollution from town and the moon interfered with starlight) so gave up and went to sleep in my car. In spite of the heat, Alabama Hills was a great spot and I already knew I’d be back for climbing and photography purposes!
Got up and packed up before heading out to do Shark’s Fin arete… a goal I had ever since I’d seen the formation years ago when a friend and I had crashed the night right under it… but he wouldn’t let me climb it (we were rushing to get campsites for friends in Tuolumne and he’d insisted we didn’t have time). There is a designated parking area for The Shark’s Fin now, it meant for a very short walk, but we did see that a group was beating us to the formation as they were already walking out. Luckily, once Vina and I caught up, they didn’t seem to be hopping on the arete route. It was a guided group led by a female guide with a small group of guys who, judging from what she was telling them and their responses, were either very new to climbing, or had maybe done it a little in a gym. I asked the guide if she minded if I led the arete route “real quick” as we were then going to leave for Tuolumne. She said her plan was to get her group up the left route then hang a rope on the arete route but she still had some instruction to do on the ground so, go ahead. I stepped up to the route and realized it was one of those that the start was a bit odd, I had hoped I could clip the first clip from a boulder nearby but it was too far, eventually I just had to go for an essentially no foot move to gain an edge to then clip. The rest of the climb was not a gimme either, but quite a lot of fun! Vina followed it and paused for some time at two spots and later told me she was impressed at my onsight of it, “Great job, Eileen, you did it so fast, and without even eating breakfast!”
“Really?” I said. I had worried that I’d taken too long since the guide had been waiting to add a rope to our anchors.
One of the guys in the group piped up, “You did great, I was watching, you looked really smooth on it, no hesitation.” It struck me that – even though some other guys in the group had been talking loudly about skydiving and trying BASE jumping in such a way that made me wonder if perhaps their egos were feeling a little threatened – climbing has come a long way since I first started when guys pretty much assumed a female (when there was one in a group) was not a leader. This morning, the two leaders on the rock were female, and one was a guide. Shark’s Fin is such a picturesque rock and I love that you can see Whitney from it as well. After that, Vina and I stuck to our word and got in the car to head for Tuolumne.
Unfortunately, upon leaving Lone Pine, my low tire pressure indicator came on. This had also happened a week ago and I found my driver’s side tire slightly under inflated, chalked it up to temperature changes, inflated it and all was well. The light coming on again made me worry it was a slow leak, though it could be due to altitude and temperature change again – if so I’d expect that to affect all 4 tires instead of just one. We decided to make an air and lunch stop in Bishop, CA after I told Vina that I loved going to Schat’s Bakery every chance I could when going through that town just to buy a loaf of their Chili Cheese Bread. Schat’s is a very busy, tourist filled place but we got a table and the bread is totally worth it! After that we tried to go to the Chevron to put air in the tire but someone had parked in the spot for it. The tire visually looked fine and I didn’t see any nail, etc, but I still wanted to fill it up. I went to the Shell in town which is at a Carl’s Jr and after getting the free tokens to operate the machine, found out it was out of order. So I went back to the Chevron which fortunately now had the air/water parking spot free. The tire was at 21 PSI. Tire filled with air again, and the low pressure indicator off, we hit the road.
I was running on a sleep deficit from a busy week so I was glad to be able to catch a few winks while Vina drove on the leg from Bishop into Tuolumne and the Lembert Dome picnic area. I had had the vague idea that I would lead us up Northwest Books. That route was my very first multi-pitch trad route I’d done a long time (*cough* almost two decades *cough*) ago. I wasn’t so sure though. I didn’t remember a key part of the route. Missing this part would make a big difference in the rating. I also remember the descent being quite painful in climbing shoes (and steep enough that I wouldn’t want to do it in hiking shoes – and yes, I know there’s a long way down via a hiking trail). Luckily, we got a primo parking spot alongside the road and started to rack up. Alas, the spot was too good to be true, as some climbers told us who were sorting gear nearby. We had parked in the No Parking zone and didn’t realize it because the car after me had done the same and also blocked our view of an additional sign. The climbers were leaving though so we could take their legal spot. Trip of ups and downs in terms of luck so far!
We grabbed the parking spot and finished gearing up. I was still feeling “car warp” from the drive and grogginess from my not-very-refreshing cat naps in the car. Hiking up the approach I could feel the altitude (I live basically at sea level). I looked ahead to the route and still couldn’t see where one was supposed to traverse to avoid getting on a harder crack climb after pitch one. I realized too that it’d been years since I’d done a multi-pitch climb of any sort, following or leading. I had studied Mountain Project’s beta on the route but still didn’t have a clear picture in my mind. Truth was, I was hoping another party would already be on the route so I could see where they were going and follow them. What I did notice when I looked up was that someone had left an alpine draw on the one bolt on the route! Nothing gets you motivated like a chance at booty gear! I headed up the 3rd class approach to get to the real start of the climb. Upon getting to the tree and setting up an anchor, I realized that I could also see that there were two pieces of gear in the crack beyond the bolt! I guess the party that had left the gear on the bolt had bailed higher and didn’t want to just lower on one piece of pro or didn’t feel good about their placement of it. I still wasn’t liking not knowing the route properly, though my memory of the first pitch was coming back pretty strong. I remembered it was a bit odd and slick in parts, not an obvious crack or lieback technique situation. The pair of guys who had passed by earlier on the trail below (and I’d hopefully asked if they were going to do Northwest Books) came back. I called out, “You’re back!”
“Yeah, we decided to pass on the direct route and do Northwest Books instead.” I had already decided to just lead climb up to the bolt, maybe check out the situation with the two cams, but likely come back down. The reason for this plan was that I had lost my nerve but Vina wanted to at least climb a little since we were there. We had a backup plan so would do that afterwards.
In the end, after some discussion with the guys, it was decided that I could climb up and use their gear to get lowered / downclimb. In exchange, the guys would now get to lay claim to the gear left in the crack. I headed up, placing a few cams before getting to the bolt. Right before the bolt I could see why it was there… there were some friction moves to get to it and to go beyond it. Getting to it was likely easy for anyone taller than myself but I didn’t like it much and found it an unpleasant surprise after the easy terrain before it. In addition to this, I could hear a lot of chatter going on at the base of the climb and thought I heard my name. I stepped back down to a ledge from my attempt to start the friction part to ask what was going on but learned no one had said anything to me. I continued up and gained the bolt. The gear was brand new and could not have been left there more than one day – particularly since this was normally a very popular route and it would’ve been cleaned sooner. The cams and crack seemed so close but so far away! But, I already had a plan, so put in the Berkeley guys’ gear and lowered / down climbed.
Vina went up after and did the same. However, we didn’t take off quite yet, she wanted some photos before we headed back to the car, so we were able to see the guys start the route. Upon getting to the friction part, the leader was hesitant as well – it really was pretty blank for a route that’s supposed to be 5.6. He went ahead and got to the crack but said, “I didn’t like that part at all!” He continued on and passed the two left behind pieces. Then we could hear him exclaim, “There’s more gear!” This was very odd, why would someone leave so much gear? Vina and I were already making our way down but could still hear the guys talking. At one point we heard the leader say, “Something must have gone wrong, there’s an anchor just lying here at my feet, not attached to anything”. This was very strange and not good. Leaving gear on multi-pitch routes is not uncommon, some would say it’s the price of admission to multipitch trad climbing. But leaving a lot of gear, and seeing an anchor setup not attached to something, is not common at all. I wondered if the party had been chased away by a thunderstorm, or, as I heard one of the guys say to the other, “Maybe they were so flush, they just bailed and left all their gear?” There was another possibility that neither they, nor I said out loud.
It was with somber thoughts that I left the Lembert Dome picnic area with Vina to scope out a “climb” she had done with her husband a few weeks ago near Tenaya Lake which she described as just “walking up” with great views. My backup to Lembert had been to find Bunny Slopes or one of the few top rope areas in Tuolumne but, considering my mood, the fact that we’d already driven past one of the top rope areas, and the time limit (Vina wanted to get to Oakhurst early enough to say hello to her friends before dark) – easy “climbing” was fine with me. We ended up not finding exactly what Vina had envisioned but we did pull over across from Tenaya Lake and go up what I began to recognize as part of the descent area from when I did West Route years ago. I then spotted the route itself and remembered leading the rather slippery lie back pitch, and thinking it must be even more slippery now. Was I being older and wiser to not even want to do it now, or was I just being chicken? Was my caution completely due to my “still getting back into climbing” status, or something else? I had led fine in the morning on the sport route. What was it about trad in Tuolumne that scared me so much? I brought my attention back to the exploration we were doing. We found a lot of wildflowers and gorgeous views. Tuolumne is pretty breathtaking, no matter where you are in it.
Driving to Oakhurst
We took off from Tuolumne with some regret, and headed to Yosemite Valley, hoping we wouldn’t have to follow the loop road around. Thankfully we didn’t but I begged for a stop at tunnel view, as the light was very pretty. It’s certainly one of the most photographed views in Yosemite, but that doesn’t make it any less gorgeous! Unfortunately on the drive down from there, the low tire pressure light came on again. This was not good. I was at the wheel and knew there was a gas station at Wawona. When we got there, the air pump needed to be turned on and there was no one inside the gas station (though the gas pumps still worked). I checked my tire pressure and it was at 21 PSI again. We just wanted to get to Oakhurst and I’d get the leak patched (or buy new tires). It made for a slightly nerve wracking drive down (with us keeping an eye out for gas stations along the way) but we finally made it to a Chevron with a hightech but working air station. My tire pressure seemed to have held, as it was still at 21 psi according to the fancy air pump machine. I filled up the tire and drove the thankfully short distance to our hosts’ place in Oakhurst. Safely at their place I got out of the car and heard a hissing sound. That was new! I could tell the tire was going to be flat by morning. I had just bought this set of tires, less than 2 years ago. Darn luck!
Coming… PART II, in which I inexplicably get my nerve back and experience some “firsts”
Below: Gallery of Day 1 and Day 2 trip photos featuring a mix of my professional photography shots, camera phone, or GoPro shots, and shots by Vina Lustado (those taken with me in them except for my GoPro timed photos of Shark’s Fin). Photo of Vina and me in yoga poses by unknown photographer from LA (one of the guys being guided).
In the fall of last year, I wasn’t yet back to climbing but I was craving nature and adventure. Terri, a climber and photographer friend of mine suggested we do a road trip from her place in Sacramento up to her sister Tracey’s place in Oregon then travel together to do our own mini night and landscape photography workshop trip. It sounded like a great idea to me and we made plans to do it in the Spring. Well, I’m happy to say, we managed
to pull it off between this first week of April. While we did encounter circumstances that did not make of the best milky way photography conditions (rain and light pollution), we did come back with some great photos, happy memories, and a list of more places and things to do for next time! We also got to snowshoe, hike, rock scramble, have dinner with one of Terri’s photography mentors, enjoy food stops, and each other’s company. Below is a slideshow of my photos too see the photos larger, or for purchase, go directly to the gallery here.
“Eileen I’ve got a climb you should lead,” Todd “The Mayor of Joshua Tree” Gordon told me. It was Saturday. With rain predicted locally for my birthday weekend, I had taken off on an unplanned trip to Joshua Tree and found myself amidst blue skies, a bit of wind, and good company. Todd led the route first, then left an anchor for me to then lead it after him. I hadn’t warmed up on anything so this would be my first climb in weeks, but it looked great so I tied in. I moved up the easy start, then on to the steep section. Moving up from that I reached up but didn’t quite get the hold in the ideal spot on the rock spine. I was keenly aware that I was on lead so didn’t let go. I growled a little to myself but stayed with the hold, got my feet higher then stepped up. A few more moves and the climb was over too quickly.
I’m not one of those climbers that feel that when they climb, they should always lead. I’m just as happy following a route and I take pride in being a good “cleaner” of trad routes. I appreciate leading though as a skill and a unique way to bring oneself to focus on the moment so I practice when I can. Since my re-entry to climbing, I can count the times I’ve led on one hand. I know I’m not physically back to where I was. Mentally I’m not either. I was initially nervous to even just climb on toprope on a long friction climb on Suicide Rock. Re-entering climbing has meant challenging myself both physically and mentally.
Sunday, others in my group pointed me at a climb called Sand Donkey in Indian Cove. It was tall with some vertical cracks mixed with face climbing. I decided to try it as an onsight upon seeing that the first bolt seemed to be at a reasonable distance. I climbed up a few feet. I felt good on this low angle start. I even paused to smile at Michelle for a photo.
I soon had to get down to business though. One of the verticals contained a bulging section that I needed to get over. I saw a bolt that would’ve been nice if I could have clipped from where I stood but I was just out of reach. I would have to move up somehow to do it. There was a chalked hold I could see that seemed to be the obvious one to go for before stepping up. I decided to basically hop for it. One. Two. Three. Hop… and fail. I repeated this with the same result. John “Wrote the Books on Climbing” Long, was in our group, and called up to me that the climb shouldn’t be that hard (it’s only supposed to be a 5.9 I think) and if I was making all that noise maybe it wasn’t the move. I said, “You’re right.” I shuffled my feet right to take a look at what I hoped was a crack I could use. It turned out to be just a flare. It seemed like the only thing to do was to go for the chalked hold. I shuffled back and discovered a small ledge I could use for my left foot so I could get a little higher. It was not ideally placed, it was too much inline with the hold I wanted… making my center of gravity a little off for such a move. It was worth a try though. I placed my foot carefully on it then tried a hop from there. My hand touched the hold! But I could not keep it. I did feel though that it wasn’t a jug, it was more of a slight mound. I’d have to make it work. One. Two. hop! I got it on it’s lower part but, still I was going to make it work. I held on. My hop momentum hadn’t brought me high enough to rock onto my foot so I did a slow push down on my left leg before being able to straighten and step up. That move was definitely not in line with a 5.9 rating.
I had some adrenaline going as I prepared to move on to a face section. This required some calming on my part. I started to puff breathe. I remembered some advice given to me a long time ago… place your feet carefully, don’t reposition them. I stepped and moved. Stepped and moved. I got to the next bolt. There was one more vertical and then another face part. This seemed harder and steeper, and I still felt adrenaline from the move lower in the climb, but the anchor was so close. Step and move up. Step and move up. Keep your balance! I carefully did the last move and reached the anchors.
After I was down on the ground, it was interesting to watch the other climbers in our group do it, and to find that two of them found the second to the last face climbing portion of the climb to be a challenge as well as the part I felt was the crux. I realized that my mental space and muscle memory for friction, small edge type of climbs is still with me and may in fact be making it hard for me to properly judge those type of climbs since other types of climbing seem hard still. Or maybe it was just that I had been so relieved to get past the bulging vertical below, that the rest seemed not as bad in comparison. Of course, climbing routes are often great physical puzzles – there are no colored holds outdoors – and one can be creative when trying to figure out the next move. What may work for my body frame, may not work for others and vice versa.
That’s all part of the fun though. I love how climbing is good for the body, mind, and I’ll add, soul.
2017 wrapped up with a bang. I took off December 28 for 5 days in Joshua Tree, leaving early in the morning, and leaving the smell of smoke that still lingers in Ventura from the Thomas Fire. That first day of the trip my friend and I drove around looking for something fast to do to warm up on, and found ourselves on some deceptively easy looking, but actually pretty tough climbs in Echo Cove… which I ended up seeing in a guidebook as being 11b (which we would even argue was low for the right most climb). Other climbs done during the trip: Pope’s Crack, 4 routes on Poodle Cracks, Banana Cracks (the left one). The park was very crowded, this time period being popular, plus the weather was warmer than usual, hot in the sun, but still cool in the shade. The first few days, the crowds seemed to be mostly hikers/non climbers, but starting Friday we noticed routes/walls were busy as well.
This trip was unusual for me: I didn’t spend a single night in a tent (though I did use a sleeping bag one night in BLM land, and one night in the rustic accommodations we stayed at the second night of the trip). The trip was also unusual because the highlight wasn’t climbing every day like usual – two of the days we focused on hiking/scrambling/scouting instead of climbing. What was also unusual, but a real treat, was meeting up with a couple I haven’t seen in person in years! I know Christina from college days and she was on the Canadian Climbing Road Trip I went on many years ago. It was just her, our friend Jessica, and myself – 3 climbers out for adventure in British Columbia and Alberta (one day I’ll post about that trip). Matt, her husband, is also a climber/adventurer, and their 14 and 12 year old daughters climb now too. It was such fun to reminiscence and catch up! Sadly, we forgot to take a photo together!
Perhaps partly because of the need for me to summarize a lot of what’s happened to me in order to catch them up, I realized that the past few years, while truly having some very low, lows, also had some highs, and that things have been looking up again. So, goodbye 2017, you included some nice firsts for me: first time in Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Happy Boulders, Yosemite camping with just my sister and nieces with rain nearly every day of a five day trip — and many more experiences I’ll keep close. The unpleasant firsts of 2017 I’ll not list, but will learn and grow from them. 2018, look out!
I had to evacuate my place in Ventura before dawn on Tuesday morning of last week due to the Thomas Fire after a long, harrowing night. That very morning I worked several hours remotely to make sure digital communications were made about the state of the non profit I work for and those we serve and how others could help. I finally managed to grab some sleep in the late afternoon but the rest of the week proved just as busy.
Aside from keeping tabs on donation and help efforts for work, I also monitored the status of my neighborhood and those of my friends. I remained on mandatory evacuation orders. It was touch and go for four days but by Friday night I learned the mandatory evacuation for my neighborhood and the city wide boil water alert had been lifted and my landlord confirmed the house was still standing. I decided that I would honor a previous plan I had made to go climbing and take it as a mental break from the trying week. Luckily, some of the things I managed to pack before the mandatory evacuation had been announced was my personal climbing gear…well, and enough various camping equipment that a co-worker of mine had proclaimed, “I’m going with Eileen!” that first traumatic night of the fires.
Though I was tired – once I got to Joshua Tree and saw the blue skies, and could take a deep breath of clean air – I knew I had made the right choice.
Here are a few photos from the trip: Me on a crack climb at Belle Campground
Climbing Legend John Long chalking up in style.
Tom and Michelle being belayed by John and Todd. Alan looks on.
I looked at the route before me, and put my hands on the rock. I didn’t really see the next hold, but I lifted off anyway. I knew right away I wasn’t doing it right but I couldn’t remember the sequence. I tried something and fell.
I couldn’t believe it – I had never fallen on this route before, not even the very first time I had tried it. It was an overhanging climb with multiple holds that I once thought would be my next red point. But I had come off before the first bolt while on top rope. My arms felt weak and useless. I was humbled but incredibly happy. I was back outside without restrictions. I was climbing.
My last post on here is dated January 2014. I haven’t climbed consistently in about 3 years, and not at all for most of 2016 and most of early 2017. The reason why is nothing as dramatic as a spectacular physical injury, but as a casualty of the all too common death throes of a long term relationship. I mark that day – touching ground again too soon on a route that I had never fallen on before – as my re-entry into climbing life.
In the past few months of this year I’ve been edging ever closer to climbing again. In the summer I went stand up paddle boarding enough times that I considered buying a board. I joined a few hiking groups and went on a lot of new-to-me hikes. I even went on a great backpacking trip in the Eastern Sierra. And finally, though I mark the day falling on the route as my re-entry point into climbing, my first real time out climbing again was just simply going to Ape Wall in Malibu Creek with friends. I wore a new harness because I couldn’t fit in my old harnesses anymore. I didn’t have much climbing gear to my name but I didn’t want not having a harness stop me in case I was invited to climb again by someone with gear. I was shy about getting back into the climbing world. I knew I still had friends and could likely just find a new partner to climb with but couldn’t bring myself to impose and didn’t have a climbing gym close enough to get to on a regular basis. So, going to Ape Wall was a big step for me. I knew I was far from climbing shape but figured just hiking out was a good thing to do. I didn’t do much that day but it felt good to just be out making new memories.
That same month was when I headed to ghetto wall again, got on my old route and came off humbled. It was enough though, enough to make me feel some of the “old me”. I have been sharing these adventures behind the protected walls of Facebook, too shy to post here. A friend of mine who follows me there mentioned that I seemed to have gotten more adventurous. This friend was one I had made a long time ago in the video game industry world and didn’t know me that well. Back when I had first added her as a friend, I used to not use Facebook at all – sticking mainly to Twitter and of course sharing on Rockgrrl.com – so it was no surprise she didn’t know this side of me. She was shocked when I told her I used to climb all the time and had even been sponsored. To me it was a wake up call as to how long I had been away from just “being me”. A “me” who loves the outdoors and being with people who love it as well. I started climbing again, and getting back in touch with climbing friends. I started going on weekend or longer trips to familiar places and learning how it felt again to be on different types of rock, and different types of climbs. It felt great to get sore muscles again, and not just aching joints because I was abusing my knees by doing the weekend warrior thing. But what really felt great was feeling the healing the outdoors was bringing me and learning that the friends I was making or reconnecting with – that those friendships had really always been there if I had only reached out – even if I didn’t know my route anymore – and just started again.
I’m going to be posting stories and photos from this re-entry period, with some of my thoughts on how hard it is to start climbing again after stopping. The posts will be chronologically out of order for the most part. For now, here’s a collection of photos from my reentry period: