Thursday, June 30, 2011

High Sierras here I come!

I'm heading to Tuolumne this weekend for three days of backcountry skiing and climbing.  More coming...
Justin and I approaching North Peak last year

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Types of Fun

I cannot claim fame to this amazing idea since I've heard it in many contexts, most notably here.  The premise is very simple; there are three types of fun to categorize experiences:

Type 1: Things that are fun while you are doing it
Type 2: Things that suck in the process, but are fun in retrospect
Type 3: Things that aren't fun at all

I view the scale as a continuum with events falling between the defined categories on occasion.  Here is my take on fun scale, in increments of .5.

Type 1: Powder skiing at Squaw
I got lucky and scored the first run down Granite Chief during a bottomless day, and I was amazed at how much fun can be derived from a mere handful of turns.  It doesn't get much better than this.
Surveying the cornice drops on another day at Granite Chief (Photo: Lindsay)

Type 1.5: Skiing Tallac
The ascent was painfully hard with us gaining 3500 ft in only a few miles, and to compound issues, the snow was soft and slippery, making some sections dangerous.  However, the scenery is the best I've seen in Tahoe, and the descent was continuous corn for as long as my legs could handle it.  Overall, it was nearly type 1 fun, and the beautiful scenery during the arduous ascent kept it from type 2.
The views from the top of Tallac are incredible. (Photo: Justin)

Type 2: Attempting the Pemi Loop
This trip started out as a blast as Chris and I were bagging peaks left and right.  Then the rain came.  Then we got lost on an unmaintained trail.  Then we were both limping due to pushing our out of shape bodies far too hard.  We were hating it, but it was a blast in retrospect, although he might not agree.
Chris at the beginning of the trip: "I love backpacking!"

Chris near the end: "Why are we doing this!?"

Type 2.5: Supernova

How can a long easy multipitch sport climb in warmer-than-Boston-in-January Mexico be bad?  The problems were most of the "5.6" was chossy 4th class, and warmth was replaced with freezing wind in the shade.  Combine that with inadequately dressed group members (err...I left my fleece on the plane...), a botched rappel, and inexperienced climbers yanking off basketball sized chunks of rock above us, and you have a shitty day of climbing.  There were some nice views and fun first pitch, but no one really looks back at this day as fun.
I'm trying really hard to look happy on Supernova.  (Photo: Maggie)

Type 3: Breakdown in ME
Nothing is worse than not even getting where you want to go on a road trip.  Ben and I were on the road in 2006, heading to do some sport climbing in Canada, only to be shut down when my car died in northern Maine.
Ben inspecting the broken car :-(

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lincoln Woods May 28-29

I was recently in Providence, RI spending a couple nights staying in a dorm room along with my senior year roommates as we relived the drunken care-free fun of college.  Ben is one of these roommates, and is responsible for introducing me to outdoor climbing in 2002.  He is a stoic and self-admittedly disheveled guy who sleeps next to an espresso machine to expedite his early morning caffeine intake. 

 Ben entertaining the campfire masses with his plastic burning skills

Ben and I spent much of our free time as undergrads either dodging campus police while buildering, or at bouldering at Lincoln Woods.  I stand by my allegiance to this little state park, and I am sure it would get way more attention if it were as close to San Francisco as it is to Providence.  Its abrasive rock hosts numerous classic problems in the v2-v5 range, many of which have excellent landings and short approaches.  In order to truly relive our college lives, Ben and I had no choice but to spend some time there.  The weather cooperated enough to give us two good sessions to work on our old projects, namely Iron Cross (v4), The Sit Down Traverse (v5) and Hat's Off (v6).  Sends of the latter two are featured in a hokey video I compiled back in 2005:

Needless to say, neither of us were ready for the sharp and technical moves these problems had in store.  I linked a few new moves on The Sit Down Traverse, but was thoroughly spit off everything else I wanted to try.  I managed to redo do Mack's Traverse (v2) and Pond Cave Arete (v3), both of which are classic climbs I sent many years ago.  Hopefully, I'll get there again next time I am back in New England

Ben starting out on a v1 in the Sit Down area

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Yosemite Valley, June 11-12

I've wanted to get back to the valley for a while, and Scott and I had a free weekend overlapping.  Scott is a fellow PG Belmont climber who can lead seriously hard routes while ingesting only two Lara bars a day.  To complement him, I get nervous leading relatively easy climbs, and require huge amounts of food while climbing.  I figured worst comes to worst, I'll just follow Scott and eat a big block of cheese.  Saturday started bright and early hiking the steep (1500' in .8 mi) trail up to the Regular Route (5.9) on Higher Cathedral Spire.  The ascent felt suspiciously short as we veered off the talus slope left to the base of the spire. A cross etched into the rock marks the base of the climb, but snow was covering much of where such a feature could be.  Compound that with ambiguous rock features approximately matching the topo, and we eventually made the somewhat skeptical decision this was probably right, so I took the sharp end.

I quickly found out that this climb was going to suck as the right facing layback was wet, mossy and filled with dirt.  My calves were burning as I placed each piece, and I struggled through the steep smeary laybacks until I was within 15 feet of the belay.  At that point, I had enough terrifying wet-foot-slippage, so I lowered off a cam and gave the lead to Scott.  If we were on the right climb, this was not your average 5.5 first pitch as the guidebook told us.

Scott was also quite nervous, but finished with general ease.   While following, I took a surprising fall on one of the wet layback sections I had lead through before Scott.  The fact that it would have been a disaster had I fallen there on lead was upsetting, and lead to my newfound hatred for wet laybacks.  Upon reaching Scott at the bolts, the complaining started as we mocked the awful climb.  This gave away to a quick survey of the terrain ahead, which we conceded looked terrible and mossy, and almost certainly not the route we intended to climb.  We dejectedly rapped down, and retreated to the car.
What climb is this??
We later found out that we totally botched the approach, and we ended up climbing some obscure route with an unknown grade.  Regardless, it was mid day, and we were determined to get some more climbing in, so we made way to Pat and Jack's for some cragging.  The mosquitoes were out in full-force when we reached the base, and Scott roped up for Knuckleheads (10b).  The rock here is composed of large knobs and slopey protrusions as opposed to the Valley's normally clean faces.  Scott struggled his way up the climb, disliking the awkward big moves, and I followed.  Afterward, we searched for another climb, but crowds forced us to find a new crag, and Cookie Cliff was calling our names for redemption of what was appearing to be a lost day.
Scott rapping on Catchy
We did a nice 5.9 crack, Meatgrinder, then Catchy, a stellar 10d thin hands to fingers crack.  Scott was pushing his trad leading on Catchy, and thus took a while at the crux at the top.  Meanwhile, I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, still pissed off about my botched lead in the morning.  He lowered off around 8:15 pm, and I took a burn on TR, earning a slice of happiness by powering through the steep jams.

We had plans to meet fellow Planet Granite climbers Erica and Justin at the Ahwahnee at 8:30 for dinner, and were a bit late at this point.   The Ahwahnee is the epicenter of outdoor enthusiast stratification in Yosemite; it feels strange to wash my dirt-covered face and arms in the bathroom sink with guys dressed in suits waiting behind me.  The food in the cafe is quite tasty, and we had a good time recounting the day's adventures before heading back to get some sleep.

Sunday morning was more relaxed, but we were determined to get a long route done, so we headed up to the Five Open Books to get on Caverns (5.8).  After putting my pack down at the base, I felt some pain in my toe, and undid my sandal to realize a dime sized blister had popped on my right pinky toe.  Damn.  We waited for a party to get off the first belay, then headed up, with one scare when someone above us dropped a carabiner that nearly hit my head while Scott was pulling through the first pitch crux.  The climb was filled with fun laybacks, some of which were wet and slimy giving me flashbacks of the day before.
Scott peering into the "cave" at pitch 4 (5.7).  It is hard to believe people like leading unprotected chimneys like this.
We finished the climb, and realized our planned ascent of Selaginella (5.8) would entail us getting home at 3 or 4 am.  After the unpredictablility of this trip, we decided that wouldn't be prudent, so we headed down the steep and wet descent.
It was quite the wet descent coming back from Five Open Books.
Upon arriving at Lower Yosemite Falls, I decided I needed lead climbing redemption more than a band-aid on my dirt-caked blistered foot.  We headed back up, and I lead the first pitch (5.8) of Commitment, which offered steep thin hands in the beginning, giving away to lower angled hands higher up.  I was stoked to nab my first 5.8 lead in the Valley, and thus I felt ready to head back to the Bay Area content with the weekend of climbing.

In all, we (re)learned an important lesson this trip.  If you want it bad enough, you can find whatever you want when matching topos to rock features.  Next time, we'll read the approach beta more carefully.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Euro Death Knot ftw!

testing rappel knots!

I've always used the edk for rappelling, and it is good to see that it hold up with the double fisherman in lab tests.  I'd heard of similar tests in the past, but have never seen them on the web.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Rule

I spend lots and lots of time of time in a dark cubicle making things like CG explosions and laser beams.  I love what I do, but when the weekend comes, I'm on the road looking to escape by spending my time gallivanting around the Sierras.  In general, I'd like to think I can do anything with my precious two days off.  Drive to Vegas?  No problem!  Boston to Kentucky for a weekend?  It could be done!  These scenerios illustrate the dilemma I visited time and time again as a poor college student looking to get away from the books and climb at the Gunks for a day.  The drive looked something like this (Providence, RI to New Paltz, NY):

View Larger Map

To compensate for 8 hours of driving, and required climber's fee, The Gunks are ostensibly a climbing amusement park with deliciously steep and easy multipitch trad.  Combine simple access from the carriage road in the Trapps with beautiful views during the fall months, and you have climbing bliss.  I seriously miss this place.
Me leading the classic 5.5 Horesman
After a day of climbing on a typical Saturday, I'd inevitably find myself frantically yelling the lyrics to songs on my iPod (does that seem dated now?) with the windows down, trying to keep myself awake on the drive home.  Thus, the rule was born; never spend more time driving to and from somewhere than you do participating in some activity.

Have I stuck to this rule?  Mostly.  It was broken on a 3 day trip to Crater Lake over July 4th a few years ago.
worth the drive?  Sure!

Does this rule mean I no longer get outdoors for fear of the inevitable sleep-inducing drive home?   After-all, the Sierras are a true road trip rule-defying  4-7+ hours away... Absolutely not!  Luckily, my post college life made it easy to dedicate all TWO weekend days to adventuring!  
Justin backcountry skiing in Lassen National Park

Next up: some long trad climbing in Yosemite this weekend.  I wonder how long the line will be at The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral...