Wednesday, April 25, 2007
We’re here in Red Rock Canyon, and have been for 5 days. It’s a great place, with tons of climbing, perfect weather (most of the time) and some neat “attractions” nearby. The campground is situated just outside Las Vegas, between town and the Red Rock Canyon National Park. We’ve been to this park several times in the past for climbing, and always had great fun. Once you get used to the dramatic weather patterns (high winds mornings and evenings, with cold nights and hot days) you can find places in the park at almost any temperature you want.
To whet our appetites over the weekend when crowds were higher, we stayed out of the main park circus and hiked into the Calico Basin where some shorter, easier climbs exist. Hanmi continued her mojo by working a fun 5.7 for a while, learning how to deal with tricky placements without a solid stance and managing rope drag. I got a small meal of a mild 10 that had a “boulder start” – which means all the climb was in the first 5 moves. Red Rocks is notorious for the some climbs being a bit light, meaning the higher numbers are still easier compared to locations elsewhere. However, earlier in the week it was raining and snowing (sometimes without hitting the valley floor, which made for great curtains of rain that simply disappeared).
Yesterday, just to get a workout, I coaxed Han out to the front side to a short (45ft) crag called the Magic Bus. There, I ran up and down all the climbs, TR’ing ot leading whatever and even down climbing. They were 8’s and 10’s but they all felt rather easy, with some aesthetic moves on otherwise Smith-like faces. I got my heart pumping but they weren’t the best routes of the trip.
Las Vegas! Casinos! Every visit, we stop at the “Red Rocks Casino” and play a few games. The first year we made a few dollars, but this year was a bust. We skipped the weekend and hit it on the Sunday night, which was low energy and nobody at the table had any good streaks. Some dude next to us proceeded to lose about $1500 - he wasn’t in a good mood. I was content to lose what I brought, knowing that I could make it up when I get back.
Funny enough, the casino has a huge bowling alley and I played two games (159, 147) just to burn time while waiting for Han. The lanes are new and slick, but their ball selection is weak. I didn’t find grips or weights matched to really feel solid. By the end of the second game though, I thought climbing and bowling might be good combinations – both working the arm and fingers. I felt it.
The doggies have been having a great time. Their scrambling skill to the cliff bases is at an all-time high. Malo is hitting higher-angled stuff than ever, and Ellis can almost climb whatever we point her towards. On the ways home, they always get excited and climb best, whether up or down – they know when the food times are. Malo loves his full-body, balanced harness. When he feels me get ready to haul him, he leaps into a superman pose, holding it until he lands.
Yesterday we put them in the doggie daycare “evaluation” so that we could simply drop them off whenever we want. It worked out pretty well. Malo has a strong pack-animal sense (but certainly not Alpha-minded) – he holds his own when animals prod him. Ellis had a bit of separation anxiety but got over it (we were told). There were some fun dogs there, a friendly Boston Terrier and a huge black Great Dane stood out.
We’re spotted a ring-tailed cat, a few desert hares and one small coyote. We haven’t seen the desert tortoise rumored to be in the vicinity of the campground, but with these crowds I’m sure it didn’t stay long. So far, only one tourist has asked us about “this climbing thing” – pretty good. The dog celebrity continues, with people fawning over Ellis’s ears and Malo’s um, charm.
Today we went over to the Ragged Edges wall – which has some shorter classics. The route “Ragged Edges” itself is pretty great. There’s “Plan F” which we all thought was a good climb. Hanmi lead “Tonto” which she tells me is pretty easy. The routefinding was tricky though, which caused a bit of rope drag. She had to downclimb and pull some pieces. She has become quite a leader and while always progressing through the grades, is getting great experience with all the nuances about rope management and trad belay/rap stations.
We climbed with a great fellow Loren, who needed partners for his trip and was glad to take a “slow day” with us. Originally, we planned to split up and I’d climb a multipitch with Loren, but Han felt good enough to join in. So, we brought the whole family and just cragged 1 or 2 pitches. Thanks again, Loren. We’ll meet up again to do “Chicken Eruptus” soon!
Somewhere along the trip, Hanmi caught some poison oak. It began on her knee and slowly spread around, then to the other knee, then torso, then even a minute amount to her face. Yuck. I didn’t catch it, but I’ve had it badly in the past. She went through all the standard phases of frustration about the spreading, washing everything, restless sleep and a myriad of creams and ointments to ease the itching.
Then one morning, I woke up and she was grumbling and I took a look at her knees. Holy shit they were aggravated! So after a bit of haggling about “one more day” to see if the attack would turn the corner and ease up, we went to the local clinic and she got a shot and some oral prednisone. Voila! The swelling is down and everyone’s demeanor is better. We think it’s on her shoes and shoelaces because that’s what seems to trigger it. Funny enough, we both walked through the same meadow of it in CA, but I haven’t caught it. Oh well. It’s on the way out now, but for several days now, it’s been a bunch of Mr. Yuck faces.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
We decided to document our travels with cheesy other pieces of kitch as well. Although it pains me to convulsions to walk through a shop of ugly “local art” – once in a while we indeed browse the most backwater places we can find. Although most of the things we see have “Made in China” stamped on the bottom (local art?), we have chosen a rare few to leave the shelf and adventure along with us as part of our new group.
Our kitch so far:
“Bell” – heavy metallic bobble ladybug, acquired from a dusty stop along the 40 from Mohave. She is adorned with small silver ring found on a picnic table outside Prescott, AZ. She makes a tinkling sound when we drive over extremely bumpy roads – letting us know that we’re in adventurous territory, or off-track!
“Green” – Ceramic turtle, also from the stop in Mohave. He likes to take it easy. Doesn’t say much. Until he was taped down, he was unusually fast for a tortoise, darting left and right along the dashboard, and once in a while jumping into our laps, kinda like a pug.
“The Brain” – Hollow ceramic iconic cow skull. Acquired when we filled the tires back up on a stop along Route 66 outside Flagstaff, AZ. Hasn’t made an impression yet, but I’m sure he/she has a lot of good ideas brewing. Mess with the brain and you get the horns.
“The Faith” – Our token piece of Christian kitch to let believers know that our car isn’t to be messed with – or Jesus will strike you down like a testosterone-fueled marine cadet. It’s also been rumored to help avoid traffic tickets in the more religious communities in Utah.
Hanmi and I carry about 1.5 standard trad racks when planning to hit an unknown crag. We don’t carry the largest sizes, but in the small hands/large fingers we have a bit of overlap. Also included is a bag of slings, rap slings, a small emergency pack, food (no dog food), guidebooks, 4 liters of water, shoes, helmets, a rope (sometimes two if we want to hit 2 pitches at once) and some rescue gear – which all adds up to maybe 30 lbs per pack. Dogs for scale (they actually just wanted some of Rachel Ray’s yummy Wheat Thins).
Our tent is a heavier expedition-style 4 season 2-man tent. It has a full fly which we use more often than not. We’ve sometimes broken it down to just 2 poles and the tent for short backpacking trips – which is about 5lbs, a tolerable weight.
The desert camping has typical high winds in the mornings and evenings. Our last tent had the door torn open on such a night, so we beefed up on this tent. It is super calm inside on even the stormiest of nights. The two vestibules get lots of use for shoes, packs and stuff. There are lots of great pockets to hold your pocket junk, headlamps, etc. The doggies fit inside well and we’re all pretty cozy.
We lay down two thermarest-style pads, then some 30-degree sleeping bags with extra silk liners. I also have my woulbie (flannel sheet) which I use more often than zipping up the sleeping bag. We use stuff-sacks filled with clothes as pillows and sometimes covered with a fleece. All of this overnight gear fits in about 1 backpack and weighs about 30 lbs.
The doggies Malo and Ellis have a small sleeping bag to themselves, which they sometimes use. We’ve also gotten them a doggie bed to ride in the car (it helps keep them comfortable atop all the boxes and gear. It also makes a nice loafing pad for me in the morning sun.
We are sitting in the tent and Hanmi is demonstrating how band-aid wrappers flash blue when you open them. She is placing the band-aid on her knee, which has become an ugly collection of poison oak bumps. Placing the finishing touches of a band-aid on top of a few wraps of flexible gauze, her knee resembles more of a runner’s injury than a spreading itch. But after a week, she’s desperate to try anything, and it seems to spread to her other leg while she sleeps.
Today we drove Northward from Prescott, Arizona to a small town called Williams. There is nothing out of the ordinary there; it is a typical Arizona desert town, full of ranchers and land subdivisions for sale, trying to continue the recent years of population spread to the area. It looks about over, from the abundant supply of For Sale signs.
Williams has a large US Ranger Station, and there we picked up several maps to the area. From studying these maps and using the hand drawn maps I made last night from our friend’s guidebook, plus the poor instructions in the Rock-N-Road book, we made it to Paradise Forks. It is here that we’ve set up camp.
Paradise Forks is about a 2 mile gorge cut into this high desert from a small river. It splits at the South into two legs, and is fed from the North by two smaller streams, each of which has cut another two legs into the gorge, making the entire feature resemble a large X on the map.
The sides of Paradise Forks are of a volcanic rock that has formed large semi-regular columns comprised of basalt. Beneath these columns is thin layer of red sandstone. Rock climbers cherish this area because it presents unique climbing compared to the rock features in other areas nearby. One arrives at Paradise at the lip of the gorge and can scramble down one of a few steep gullies, or rappel from the top of a popular climb.
The climbs are highly prized for their unique crack systems, which develop from the separation of the basalt columns as their slowly erode away from the sides of the gorge. Since the loose rocks were removed from the area by the original climbing parties, performed long ago, the climbs are of a clean and solid shape.
In Arizona, I’ve been told that crack climbing is not as prevalent as face climbing. However, from yesterday at Sullivan Canyon I’ve realized that there’s lots of crack to work on one’s technique here.
Dude – these climbs rock! Today, we found our buddy Ben in his local Prescott College rock climbing class. He had told us last night that they’d be here and we thought it was a great opportunity to meet up again (3rd time) and hit a crag along our planned route.
I set up an anchor from two stout trees at the top next to his, and rapped down to the base. Then Hanmi joined me, leaving the dogs tired to a tree at the top. I climbed first, and found it to be somewhat of a stretch in places but very exciting. It demanded full scouting for good holds, looking outside one’s typical shoulder-width climbing path, and it had solid hand and foot jams whenever you searched for them. It was slightly overhanging and in a dihedral, making some of the moves feel desperate. However, for my height, every two or three moves was followed by a solid stance. Hanmi had several more between stances, and is blessed with the ability to enjoy more technical moves from every climb than I. This also works her a bit harder, but when our day starts late and we’re taking it easy, she’ll let me climb multiple times between hers.
So I did, after she topped the route, I climbed it again – and again laughed at how fun it was. Ben and friends climbed to our left and each had a struggle on a more demanding crack climb. Crack climbing can sometimes be considered a specialized technique but eventually one must master finger locks, stacks, jams, hand jams, fist jams and so on, as the cracks widen. Fingers and larger-than-hands are both more strenuous than simply a cupped hand size, but once added to your repertoire, climbing in place like Paradise Forks are fun and exciting.
So I lowered down the next route over and Hanmi belayed me up again. This route has two starts: The direct, which is a wide stem problem with nearly no cracks or edges to help, is said to be a mid-11 grade. The easier start traverses from the first climb we did and then joins at a about one-quarter of the way up.
I tried the direct first, and made it about 5 moves before falling. The fall swung me around to the other climb, so I went there and traversed back, skipping the direct start entirely. Once on the rest of the route, it was solid hand and foot jams, with extra feature along the faces whenever you wanted them. However, the crack was a perfect size for large hands and feet, so I felt solid and jammed my way up the climb.
Tomorrow, we’ll be dropping lines down again to find climbs that interest us. It should be interesting because we won’t know what climbs are possible from looking down at them. So, we’ll probably drop one line and bring another in case I have to jug back up and drop one elsewhere. We’ll just have to see. Our entire trip so far is like that, since we have no real schedule or pressure to pack a lot of activity into a short time, we can look and play until we’re tired.
Afterwards, we inquired about camping nearby and they invited us to come back to town with them and crash at their place. Always up for adventure and realizing these were good folks, we accepted. After a trip to the store, we stood in the kitchen to share food and formally meet each one of the group. Zak, Ben, West, Filipe, Matt, Rachel, Chaya are all very cool (did we miss any names?). We had great fun talking about climbs/places we’d been (nothing epic to amaze them, but they realized our trip wasn’t to peak bag or chase stars in the guidebooks). Their place is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with gear for almost every outdoor activity somewhere and someone who knows something about it.
I tried to make some food to add to the yummy corned beef and cabbage they had stewing all day, plus beer-roasted bratwursts. We ate some, drank some and crashed in the basement – in a real bed! The next day we hung out with Felipe for a few hours before heading out to Paradise Forks – again to meet a few of the students in their class again. We found them late in the day and ended up on some stellar 10ish handcracks. I cannot believe the quality of the climbs there – simply amazing. We put Paradise Forks and Granite Mountain on the list for our return trip of focused climbing.
Hey guys – you’re all invited up to our place any time. One or all, let us know when you want to see the NW climbing areas and we’re easily available. Of course, you already have a free place to stay. Thanks again!
The past three days have been of us climbing in different crags in this area around Prescott. The Watson Lake area (Granite Dells climbing crag) was short and interesting. It was here that Hanmi felt more open to start leading again, and put up a mild climb, then top-roped a steeper short problem I wanted to play on.
Then, we scrambled over to “Thor’s Wall” – which holds a menagerie longer and more difficult problems. The rock at this crag overall is of an eroded quartzite, similar to Joshua Tree in rounded blobs, however they are even sharper and of larger crystals than J-Tree.
Ben had mentioned of a few 10-ish trad leads on Thor’s Wall, so we went to scope them out. I became distracted for a short time by an intriguing problem that seemed like a hard 11 or low 12. I made it about 2 moves up that one, then down-climbed and pulled pieces.
Humbled, I racked up and began another climb in the 10 range. After 2 moves, again I froze and found myself refusing to commit to the balance of a thin problem above my gear. After several tries and lots coaching from Hanmi, I lowered frustrated. In my annoyance, I suggested she give it a shot.
After only a split second of consideration, she was shoes on and rack-ready. At the move, she threw a high foot and slowly rocked onto it, hands only balanced on the thinnest of features. She clipped the last sparse bolt and then had a great time climbing up and placing solid gear. She topped out shortly afterward and belayed me up on a trad anchor.
I couldn’t have been more delighted and proud of watching her meet the anxiety of a true lead at her climbing limit and sending the route onsite. After a lot of hugs and kisses and a scramble down, we headed into a hotel room to clean up for celebratory dinner. Going back to where we found great lunches, we ate braised lamb shank and whiskey glazed pork loin. We had skipped a proper lunch, so dinner had all the courses, from a salad with bread, to soup, main course then dessert. A bottle of wine and a short trip back to the hotel room and solid sleep followed.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
This was a spectacular encounter, a ring-tailed cat. This guy down-climbed 5.8 about 160ft to leave some upper climbers and run right into me. He kept an eye on the doggies, but his standard local meal made an appearance next...
These mice came out to check our packs and weren't shy. There were several all over the place, and seemed to be able to climb anything. They had some great climbing moves. I'm sure the peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches beckoned, but I ate 'em! Sorry guys.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Well, we're sitting at Oak Flat campground, and it's pretty. Pretty wild too, with almost no road (we were grinding out on the "road" here, passing a Land Rover Discovery that turned back). The sun is just now dipping beneath the horizon, and the cooler air is moving over in small breezes. We've already set up the stove, eaten and packed it away again. The dogs have completely become accustomed to our mixing dogfood with gravy washings from the cans of chili or whatnot. They refuse to eat the (admittedly poor) dry food we bought for them. But, after a long day, they'll give in.
And what a long, great day it's been. Last night, we rolled into Phoenix, AZ from Joshua Tree. We rolled into Arizona and got to chat with an old acquaintance, Gary. He's been a good pal to my friend Cedric (mentioned in a prior post) over the years, and was really helpful on giving us bearings to choice climbing just outside the city. He wasn't kidding - we had a great time. We spent last night in a posh hotel and relaxed all night and morning. There's an Ironman competition going on this weekend (Sunday) and having arrived Friday night, we were greeted everywhere by thin-skinned hairless athletes. The guys especially looked gaunt, with deeply sunken cheeks. That’s a neat sport and I admire the physical capability those folks can build up. The competitive nature of it isn't for me though. I like climbing, where you battle your own capabilities with rock features testing you. Sometimes you're hot with your abilities, sometimes not, but never do I feel ranked in a long list of people.
After breakfast in bed, we drove out here and found it no problem. After a short hike down into a dry creek bed, we walked into a 20ft wide slot canyon, water carved from a canal built upstream by a local mining company.
We met some local climbers who were just scouting, and they gave us some starting lines to warm up. They felt good, like mid 8's with a harder move now and then. We had the place to ourselves, which was great for a weekend, and just scoped out a climb and then bargained for lead. I won all the leads, simply because Han didn't have the mojo today. Most of the climbs felt okay, without any being much sustained. Some had great stretches of roof moves, some with tiny hands. My last climb of the day went over this 8 foot curving roof, with a clip under the lip.
Both my feet fell out before I was able to regain the lip and throw a foot. Then, as I pulled, a bunch of rock burst under my hand, sending grapefruit-sized nuggets into the canyon. After that one fall, though, I made the anchor and felt great. Hanmi dodged all the big stuff, thankfully!
Hanmi had a fun adventure on a closeby climb. It had "full value" we kept saying, in that it had a bit of face, stemming, body-wide chimneying, and some overhang. All the climbs had something interesting. One had a run-out section where I thought it shouldn't, but then I found an awesome jug just at the top of one's reach at a particularly balancey move. It knocked the whole grade down and made the climb full of laughs. Not knowing any names, we talked of it being named "Faith" for that one move. We may have been influenced by the ridiculous number of Christian evangelical groups singing, babbling and handing shite out in Tempe the night before.
Malo had a good time as well, finding a little stinkbug to chase around. He decided to eat it, and of course it sprayed him full inside the mouth. He spit it out unharmed, then gagged and foamed for a while. I washed his mouth out and told him to lay down. He was a bit less inquisitive after that. Overall though, we're keeping a closer eye on them out here. We found a white scorpion while gathering wood and there's howling animals at night. So, after some extra food and a bit of cojoling, both doggies are snoring away in the tent as I write.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
We have met some great folks, though, and are still managing to have fun. At the moment we've taken refuge at the Beatnik cafe, a strange, somewhat dirty establishment with nasty bathrooms and sub par food. They apparently have a pest problem as well, by the health department notice posted in the front window. But they have wireless, so we're making the best of it.
We started the day with a couple new friends, Sarah and Briana, and walked over to Headstone rock to climb SW Corner. As I was belaying Jim, I looked up and noticed huge thick white clouds blowing in... what I couldn't see was the huge dust storm it was kicking up in its wake. Once Jim got to the top, however, he could see the wall of brown dust and sand and we made the decision to bail.
He rappelled off the front of the rock and we left all the draws on the bolts. Sarah and Briana ran back to camp ahead of us with the dogs to spare them from getting a bunch of sand in their eyes. I waited for Jim to get down and we hurried back to the tent where we all hunkered down with our lunches. After several lulls and gusts, Jim took Briana out to the rock formation directly behind our tent and set up a toprope to teach her all the basics of climbing.
Sarah went to watch and take pictures, and I stayed in the tent with the dogs. The temperature was dropping fast and as the clouds thickened, it got dark and started dropping ice pellets and snow on us. It was crazy. Briana reported having to brush snow/hail out of the holds as she climbed. Hows that for an introductory lesson?
The weather service is calling for continued dust storms and high winds through 8pm tonight. It's supposed to be relatively calm and warm tomorrow, with highs in the mid 70's, so we should be able to get some good climbing in before we leave.
Our other new friends are our campsite mates, a father and his son and his son's friend from Napa valley who are out on a road trip adventure for spring break. With campsites being scarce, we opted to double up. Jim has also met several other people, and as such, I have dubbed him the mayor of Ryan campground. :)