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:
Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending a slideshow and talk given by Peter Croft for the annual Ventura County Search and Rescue All-Team Training Event. (Kelly and I were guests, Kelly is a former SAR member). The presentation was powerful, with amazing photos of the High Sierra adventures Croft has focused much of his career on. Lots of Epperson shots, and Peter talked about Greg’s ability to blend into the background, documenting the climbing without taking away from it.
We spoke briefly after the Q&A, but later that evening as we were catching up with folks, I approached Peter on impulse and invited him to climb in Malibu Creek with Kelly, Cliff and I. He said: “I did bring climbing stuff…. How far away is it?”. I left thinking that we might, just might be sharing a rope with climbing legend Peter Croft the next day.
Well, as you can deduce from the title of this post , I got a call the next day from Lieutenant Kevin Hartigan of Upper Ojai SAR (A local legend in his own right). He and Peter were game to go!
I was excited! We rendezvoused nearby and caravanned down to the big city. After some tricky routefinding on the 101 highway 😉 we reconvened at the trailhead and hiked in with some light rain. The five of us (2 SAR members Kevin and Emily, Kelly, Peter and I) met with Cliff (Also a SAR member one of Kelly’s climbing partner’s) and headed to The Ghetto (aka Little Europe).
Peter climbs in a deliberate and controlled manner, a joy to watch. He navigated Malibu’s confusing abundance of pockets confidently, no searching with the hands or feet. I could’ve watched him the whole time if I hadn’t been climbing and belaying.
All too soon, Peter had to leave for another speaking engagement. He shook all of our hands and thanked us for our hospitality. No, thank You Peter!
Williamson Rock, Angeles National Forest will always be a special place to me.
It’s where I did my first sport lead, and home to many fond memories of enjoying the wilderness, fresh air, and the company of friends.
It’s also been closed since 2005, due to concerns over habitat for the the mountain yellow legged frog. Every year climbers have tried to come to an agreement for use of this area, but none has been reached.
Today I received an email from the Access Fund that action is needed regarding this area, I did a Google search and I found this from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:
This year, U.S. Forest Service Landscape Architect Jose Henriquez holds out a glimmer of hope. The Forest Service has fashioned together a proposal that will manage the frog habitat with new trails and amenities while re-opening the rock to climbers, albeit for only four months a year.
“Compared to the previous times, this is a lot more promising,” Henriquez said. “But it is still a very delicate matter.”
The article also mentioned that the comment deadline is January 24th, just 3 days away!
Here’s a link to take action, using an easy etter writing tool from Access Fund. I urge you to make your voice heard, Williamson is a fantastic area that I strongly believe climbers can enjoy and also respect. It is a granite gem in Los Angeles county.
Access Fund Email:
We need your help to lift an eight year climbing ban at Williamson Rock.
Williamson Rock, the premier sport climbing destination in Southern California, has been under an eight-year “temporary” closure to allow the US Forest Service to analyze whether to allow climbing access while also protecting raptors and the endangered Mountain Yellow Legged Frog and its critical habitat.
The Angeles National Forest is once again evaluating the closure and, in an initial scoping letter, has proposed several actions to re-open climbing access to Williamson Rock. The proposed actions include: permanent and/or seasonal closures of some portions of the Williamson Rock area, construction of new access trails with educational signage, construction of a bridge and trailhead restrooms, rehabilitation of select user-created trails, and development of a monitoring and adaptive management plan.
Allied Climbers of San Diego, Friends of Williamson Rock, and the Access Fund need your help to provide the Forest Service with climber input on this letter! Please take action now by using our easy-to-use letter writing tool to submit comments to the Forest Service and ask them to re-open Williamson Rock.
The EZEE camera strap is a strap system that allows you to carry your camera at the ready in front of you while also distributing the weight between your two shoulders. It is comprised of webbing, a keeper on the back, swivel attachment points and a set of rings (in two sizes) for your camera.
It caught my eye because the straps were sleek with a thin profile and it was purported to be something one could wear under a backpack. Additionally I have long been sold on the idea that having the weight of my SLR on my neck (like traditional camera straps do) is a bad thing, and anything that places the weight elsewhere is a better idea.
I proceeded to use the EZEE strap on local climbing outings / hikes and during the 5th Annual Jtree Tweetup.
The straps were pretty straight forward, put the straps on like you are putting on jacket, the cross cross part goes on your back. The front loops allow the camera to travel from your waist up to your eye level, or however you decide to adjust the length. Putting on the metal rings onto my camera attachment points was the hardest part, and by that I mean, putting on the small ring was not much harder than putting a large key on a key ring.
Once on, it was easy to clip on to the camera and adjusting was easy enough.
In use, I found the camera jostled a little but much much less when compared to a camera on a traditional neck strap. Moving the camera up from rest position, to eye level was easy and putting it back down, it glided to its previous position in a reliable manner.
Using it with a backpack was easy enough, I just put on my backpack over the EZEE straps. For me, the backpack straps restricted the camera glide up to eye level compared to using it without a backpack on but but it still had good workable range.
Overall I am very pleased with EZEE strap, it’s lightweight and useful in a variety of situations, it does indeed work with a backpack, and doesn’t have to come off when the backpack does.
EZEE Strap is available from their website, a sample was provided to me free of charge.
I was contacted by All Pro Science folks to do a review on their product, Complete Veggie Protein powder. I was happy to find that their product does not contain milk product (in fact, it is Vegan), so I agreed to give this a go myself. Many other protein powders are made from dairy, which, as a somewhat lactose intolerant person, I have learned to become wary of.
While it says you can use the powder just with water, I tried it blended with fresh squeezed orange juice, vanilla soy milk, frozen bananas and ice. I wasn’t sure how that would go with the Berry Blast flavor, but I was happy to discover that I still got a yummy taste of the berry flavor, while getting a hint of the banana and orange juice as well. The OJ and vanilla soy milk added flavor and sugar so the whole shake was quite tasty for the sweet tooth.
The shake kept me satisfied for quite some time – no rumbly tummy until my next meal time!
I really liked the flavor since prior to this I have been used to just Chocolate or Vanilla as choices for protein powder so a little variety was quite welcome, in fact it has temporarily replaced Chocolate as my favorite protein shake flavor. I say temporarily because, well, let’s face it, chocolate is chocolate!
If you’d like to add some variety to your protein shake choices, you’re in luck. The folks at Complete Protein are providing a discount code for Rockgrrl.com readers.
The GoScopeExtreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole is a handy tool to use to get more out of your GoPro.
While the primary feature of the pole seems to be for the user to capture themselves in the action, I like to find different/more ways to use tools and found it quite useful to get shots of other people.
I used it in Joshua Tree National Park to get closer to the action by extending the GoPro far above my head. I also used it to swing closer to the action, getting a dynamic shot.
Of course you can also use the pole to get more traditional, include yourself in the shot, type video, but I found its collapsibility (from 17” to 37”) and light weight (6 ounces) makes it a great “portable boom” option.
I even used it to get stationary video, by simply resting it on a rock.
The downside to using the pole with the camera pointed to get shots of other people is that you can’t see what you’re getting in your shot (this is not a problem if you are using the pole to get selfie video… it’s just like an extension of your arm, aim the GoPro at your own mug and you’re in the shot). One way around it though is if you have a GoPro Black Edition or GoPro Black+, you can use the Android or iPhone app to preview what the camera can see. It’ll eat up battery time, but it may be worth it. I didn’t get give this a test myself because, well, I have an ancient phone that’s neither Android nor iPhone (I’ll eventually upgrade).
Over all, I say the GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole is a worthwile tool for an action adventure videographer’s kit, and especially if said videographer goes on a lot of solo trips.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole for free from GoScope as coordinated by Deep Creek Public Relations in consideration for review publication.