Joshua Tree Christmas / New Year Break

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!

See below for a slideshow or click here for the gallery page:

Joshua Tree Climbing Break to Get Away from the Thomas Fire

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

John Long chalks up on a climb in Joshua Tree
Climbing Legend John Long chalking up in style.

Tom and Michelle being belayed by John and Todd. Alan looks on.
Tom and Michelle being belayed by John and Todd. Alan looks on.

Rockgrrl (Eileen Descallar Ringwald) and Largo (John Long)
Me and John Long chilling at the base of the 10d

Team Rainbow Puffy
Team Rainbow Puffy!

Todd Gordon on his way up the friction climb
Todd on his way up the friction climb

Here’s the complete set of that Saturday and Sunday.

Re-entry

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:

Malibu Creek With Climbing Legend Peter Croft

Kevin and PeterSaturday 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.

Peter Croft climbing in Malibu Creek

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!

Peter Croft in Malibu Creek State Park
Peter Croft in Malibu Creek State Park

Climbing Access at Williamson Rock, Possible Hope if We Act Now

WilliamsonWilliamson 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.

EZEE Camera Strap Review

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.

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Photo: Terrell Barry

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.

EZEE Strap with backpack on
Photo by Terrell Barry

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.

Complete Veggie Protein Berry Blast Review & Coupon Code

Protein powder shakeI 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.

Get 40% off your order using this code: ROCK40

Some “making of” photos of the shake:

Adventure Photography Gear Review: GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole

GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole
GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole

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.

Used for stationary filming: GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole
Used for stationary filming: GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole while at Malibu Creek State Park in California

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.

Example video taken using the GoPro on the GoScope Extreme 2x Telescoping GoPro Pole while at Joshua Tree National Park, CA:

5th Annual JTree Tweetup is Coming Up! (Thank Goodness the Parks Re-Opened)

jtreetweetup5I can hardly believe it, it’s going to be the FIFTH Annual JTree Tweetup this year!

While the Government shutdown made me miss out on a 7 day trip in Yosemite, I’m so glad we didn’t have to have anyone cancel plane tickets for the JtreeTweetup!

The official dates are November 8-11, 2013 but we have folk arriving as early as November 5th and leaving as late as November 14th. The Jtree Tweetup is a fun event that sprung from an casual conversation on Twitter among #climb members and soon became an annual event with climbers who have come from across the US and even from Canada. You can still sign up on the wiki page here.

goalzero_black2

In honor of us reaching our 5th year, I can confirm a new sponsor, Goal Zero, makers of excellent solar equipment for the adventurer! They will be providing light and power for base camp via Light-a-Life lights, a solar panel and a battery from which we can charge cell phones, etc. and they have also provided a VIP kit (only 500 of these were made) to be given away at the event! The package contains a Nomad 7, a Switch 8, and a Limited Edition Rock Out 2 speaker!

So, aside from all the fun, climbing and meeting/making old/new friends, that’s another reason to come out to the desert in November, you just might be the lucky winner and win an awesome solar kit!

To keep up to date on more sponsors and trip details, create an account on the climbingtweetup wiki page and add your name to the 5th Annual JtreeTweetup page.

Gear Review: EMS Down Jacket Review

Gear Review: EMS Down Jacket Review by Ben Pope @benpope – worthlessbeta.blogspot.com

Let me ask a question…which of these people would you rather be, right or left?

That’s right – big, warm, fluffy, and even more fun to hug!

Last November, at the Fourth Annual JTree Tweetup, EMS was kind enough to circulate some clothing for review. I ended up with a new men’s large Ice Down Jacket . So far, it’s been an admirable replacement for my older belay jacket (also EMS brand). Both stash into their own pocket (though packing a bit smaller would be even better) and having a hood is perfect for cold weather belay duty. Both were polyester shell and lining and down insulation (at least 80% goose, the rest presumably being duck). The fit is roomy with plenty of space for layering underneath. Good for belay duty, but far too warm for strenuous activity. One thing to watch out for: it does leak feathers, but that may be because I received a pre-production model (the lining is polyester, not nylon as advertised in EMS’ materials).

With all that said, the model I have has apparently been discontinued. On the plus side, this year’s versions look like an upgrade: heavier duty nylon and hydrophobic down. I can’t say I’ve done an exhaustive survey (for that, head to Outdoor Gear Lab). For me, EMS jackets have been reliable gear for a reasonable price.

If you are buying a down jacket this year, there are lots of options, and buying a down jacket has probably never been more complicated. Two things to consider are the source of the down, and the treatment applied to it.

Down is an animal product. Therefore, there are ethical and not-so-ethical sources. For those wanting to know more about the source of down in their jackets, Patagonia [link: http://www.patagonia.com/us/patagonia.go?assetid=37607],The North Face [link: http://www.neverstopexploring.com/blog/2012/02/goose-down-update.html], and Arcteryx [link: http://arcteryx.com/Article.aspx?language=EN&article=Down-Statement] have been exploring those questions, to name a few.

The second area of research is the down’s treatment. There are a number of new, hydrophobic downs that are attempting to protect down’s Achilles heel such as Patagonia’s Encapsil, Rab, DriDown, and DownTek (2013 EMS jackets use DownTek).

For more information on down in general you can read EMS’s lowdown on down here. Stay warm!