Thursday, 24 November 2011

Road Trip 2011 Red Rocks

Road Trip November 2011 - Red Rocks
Drove up from Joshua Tree to Los Vegas in one go, I drove the same route with Darcy a couple of years ago.  Straight up through the desert, this is a great drive with salt plains, desert, more Joshua trees and mountains.  Got into Las Vegas mid day and found a grocery store, a bank, quiznos and made my way to the campground.  The wind was honking out of the west and it felt pretty desolate and cold so pegged the tent down hard and went back into town.  Found out that the Red Rock Casino is literally a 10 minute drive from the campsite, a little surreal.  Checked out REI (an American version of Mountain Equipment Coop however not nearly as good) and the local Casino for giggles however in spite of the lure of Monday night football decided that a campfire and what passes for my own home cooking was in order.  On the culinary side added such delicacies as canned chili to the one pot wonders, yehaa!

Next morning found the campsite of my British friends, Gareth, Julia, Robert and Anna, not far away and joined them for morning java and went climbing.  The vast majority of the climbing starts off the “scenic drive” that costs $7 per day to use but most of the climbers get a $30 annual pass.  We parked at the second Calico Hills parking lot and made our way to The Dark Corridor.  This area is a very cool formation with cliffs on each side of a seven foot wide path.  It gets sun early all along and is full of sport routes from 5.9 to 5.11’s.  I followed however we climbed a 5.9, 5.9+, 5.10a, 5.10b, a 5.10d that Julia led steep and over hanging and another 5.10b further on.  Joe and Gareth climbed a really overhanging 5.11 on the far wall however I was too pumped to even attempt it.  Was happy as I was able to make my way up a 5.10a (Vagabonds) and a 5.10b following but without falling – a new high for me.  After about noon the sun departs and we headed over to the gallery – wall of confusion.  Nice area in the sun, I was just starting to get the amount of climbing that is available at Red Rocks – it is huge.  Great sandstone, little micro ledges like quartzite however good friction as well.   Some of it gets varnished with black however it doesn’t seem to impact the friction.  I seconded a 5.10b on the far left side and got absolutely spanked, very pumpy on micro ledges and I just thrashed.  Pulled belay duty for a bit and watched Joe send a 5.12a, very overhanging and pumpy but he made it look awful smooth.  Later on I climbed the 5.10c next to the original climb on a top rope.  Didn’t climb it cleanly however did manage to work on keeping my feet under me and using the crimps a little better.  That was the day, it gets dark at 5 pm pretty much on the dot and you are supposed to be off the road by then.  I was pumped, spent and happy as I felt like I was progressing a bit.  After climbing we shared a great meal in the campground with a fair amount of beer and wine.  It was downright cold, so a campfire was had and I actually shivered in the sleeping bag a bit.  Fortunately the sun comes up early and makes the mornings more bearable. 

The next day we decided to do some trad multi pitch and we headed up to Cat in the Hat, a 5 pitch (we did it in 3) 5.6 with a bunch of stars and, more importantly, south facing as it was a little chilly.  We arrived about 11 am and there was a party on it, one waiting to go and one behind them.  Yikes, fortunately one of those in the queue decided to bail and we had time for a bit of lunch before firing off about noon.  Gareth lead with Julie and I on half ropes and then Joe and Anna followed as a team of two.  Three long pitches were had and the climbing was brilliant.  Just lots of fun, nice and steep but every time you wanted a handhold you just had to reach up and there would be one.  Joining pitches meant that Julia and I had to simulclimb a bit above our second belay, the communication is a bit tough as well.  The last pitch was the best as you work your way up to and around an arête and then out on the face.  It looks a little intimidating however it is all there.  We all rappelled the route, up in 2 ½ hours and down in 1 hour.  Fortunately, once we got started the other folks didn’t really slow us down and we only had one group rap through as we were climbing and they were very good about it.  This is likely the most popular multi pitch at Red Rocks so to be expected.  Funny as we were walking out just after 4 pm, we noticed 13 people still on Birdland (another very popular 5.7) and it looked like a complete gong show.  Obviously one has to plan around the popular moderate multi pitch climbs as they get busy.  Afterwards we all hit REI, laundromat (with wifi and plug ins – yeah!) and the climbing gym for showers.  Cold expensive showers however the climbing gym was a a real scene.  Late supper and to bed, not as cold as previous night.

I met up with Miles and Heather from Canmore the next day at my campsite (they were staying in town) and we decided to climb Geronimo another starred 5.6 multi pitch further up the valley from Cat in the Hat.  Got to the parking lot a little after 10 am and was happy to see the sun.  Found the route without much difficulty and there were two parties ahead however the last second was just about to leave the ground.  Someone’s dog was at the base, but it had water and was about the most laid back dog I’ve ever met.  We roped up and Miles lead the first pitch at noon, Heather and I followed on more great rock with lots of stemming up a crack.  Great belay, once all up had to move over to the wall above and Heather lead the next pitch.  A full rope length, she started off a little shaky however gained confidence and did a fine job.  I got the next two pitches and had great fun, up some face moves with lots of holds to a crack and went right.  I stopped to belay on a bit of a ledge then continued up the crack, went right to the face up on the arête.  Just a gas up the arête, not much pro but the holds were positive enough I didn’t miss it.  Unfortunately high cloud came over just after the first pitch so it never really warmed up above 14 or so.  Fine climbing but the belays got cool and rapped at the end of the day with the temperature dropping.  Heard from some that the temperature is about 10 degrees F colder than normal for this time of year however “apparently” it is going to warm up.  Bolts at the top and one double rope rap and four single rope raps, on the ground at 4 pm for 3 ½ hours up and one down.  Raced for the car before darkness and arrived at 10 to 5.  Great routes, the grades at this level are probably equivalent to Yosemite and even though its sandstone it’s nice to not worry about the rock crumbling every time you step on it.

That night was Gareth and Julia’s last in Red Rocks as they were heading to Moab for Mountain Biking and Indian Creek for more rock climbing on some of the famous cracks in the area.  We all decided to go for the buffet at Red Rocks Casino down the road.  I stopped in and got a frequent gamblers card for the discount and we had a great feast.  Just about everything you could ask for; sushi, Chinese food, spare ribs, roast beef, pulled pork and lots of deserts.  It officially closes at 9 pm however we finally were very politely asked to leave much closer to 10.  We were all stuffed and I waddled around the casino for awhile trying to find the right exit, once back at the campground I rolled into the sleeping bag and immediately passed out.
Friday dawned with so so weather and Joe and Anna decided to take a day off.  Miles, Heather and I headed back to the black corridor for some sport climbing.  None of us were in a tremendously high energy mode, probably still working off the previous days feast.  Managed to lead a 5.7 and 5.9 sport route and top roped a 10b and 10d.  We met up with some French Canadian rope guns which definitely helped.  Back at the car at 4:30 and celebrated with a beer in the parking lot.  It actually sprinkled just a touch at the end of the day however most routes were over hanging so it didn’t slow us down.  Moved my campsite over with Joe and Anna and had a pretty relaxed evening around the campfire. 

The next morning Joe and I got up about 7 am and it still didn’t look good weather wise.  He went back to bed and I flew into town for free showers at Miles and Heathers place and they helped get my photos off my messed up camera.  I noticed that it was getting sunny out and headed to the campsite to find a note from Joe and Anna.  Jumped in my car and raced to Calico Hills and started up the hill to where they said they would be.  It helped to find them when I heard Joe yell my name from the cliffs above.  Talk about climbing like a rock star, when I arrived they welcomed me with a “we were just about to head up this 5.6 two pitch affair and saw you coming and thought we’d wait, do you want the first lead?”.  You gotta love friends!  The first pitch of Physical Graffiti was a gem and climbed a line of steep jugs up a crack for pro to a bolted belay ledge.  As I was waiting for the other two to make their way up a guy arrived via another climb and I offered to share the belay station.  He turned out to be a local who moved from the NE US.  I asked him what brought him to Vegas and he had decided to move west, did his homework and came to the conclusion that Vegas rocked.  Rock climbing, hiking, cycling and a great climate was what drew him and he loved it.  Nice to hear about the other side of Vegas.  When Joe and Anna arrived at the belay, Anna jumped on the sharp end for the second pitch which was completely different.  It was a smearfest up a crack with no gear for this first bit.  We walked off and ran over to Fox crack and Joe lead a gnarly 5.10d lieback, chimney thing that I absolutely thrashed following him.  I started well but totally flamed out half way up, one of those climbs that you can’t close your hands afterwards because you are so pumped.  Joe was keen on the Rich Brothers Roof and we climbed up and over to it as it’s at the top of that part of the mountain.  A very cool trad roof crack that goes at 5.11b.  Joe absolutely styled it, my highlight was just making the boulder move up to the belay.  He rapped and cleaned and then swung way out given the overhanging nature, I then cleaned the bleay and had a great swing out myself.  Felt like a Disney ride, all for free!  It was dark by the time we packed up and we headed out in the dark, made the car at 5:30. 
Half way through supper Joe and Anna got a call from Julie.  Gareth sustained a severe head injury from a leader fall at Indian Creek and was helicoptered to a hospital in Colorado.  Joe and Anna packed up quickly and departed for the 8 hour drive to Colorado at about 8 pm.  A week later Gareth passed away from his injuries.  I still feel a little numb about it all and sure feel for Julia, his family and friends.  Gareth was one of the most warm, welcoming, adventurous, fun loving guys I’ve ever met and won’t be forgotten.

Next day started off in a bit of a funk however the weather looked a little better and Miles, Heather and I climbed Johnny Vegas, a 5.7 three pitch affair.  Probably my favorite multi pitch so far, first pitch was steep and traversed on big holds over some great exposure, second pitch went up a steeper crack and the third (my lead) up and around a roof where the holds ran out but the pitch eased off and ran to the top.  We were able to unrope and made our way to the base of solar slabs where we had lunch and then rapped up down solar gully.  Unfortunately, we met a guy going up on what looked like his first gear lead, he was pretty shaky but we managed to get around each other okay, with the exception of the nut he dropped that bounced off my shoulder.  That night got in some grocery shopping, shower and laundry before heading back to the campsite for some home cooking.
I took a rest day on Monday, had a bit of a sleep in and checked out death valley.  It was about a 2 hour drive through some spectacular scenery.   There is an 11,000 ft peak in the valley that I was half hoping to climb however once I arrived it was obviously out of shape with quite a bit of snow up high.  The interesting bit is that you can drive up to 8,200 ft, all this from the valley which is 280 ft below sea level.  After driving through Badwater, the lowest point in North America and a great salt flat, I headed back to Vegas.  Arrived early enough to buy a replacement camera and catch Monday night football at the Red Rocks Casino.  Great fun with $1 hotdogs and beer and some of the best people watching I’ve done in awhile.  I made a small donation to the casino in the form of a bet on the Vikings (what was I thinking!) and headed back to the campground.

Tuesday met up with Miles and Heather and headed off to the panty wall (honest, I’m not making this stuff up!) and panty prow.  This is a great area with moderate bolted routes on interesting rock in the sun, the first time I had felt too hot in some time.  We were first in the parking lot at 8 am and had the place to ourselves all day.  We all took turns leading such classics as Boxer Rebellion (5.7), Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job (5.8), Brief Encounter (5.8) and Panty Prow (5.6) and then put a top rope up Victoria’s Secret (5.10b) and Panty Mime (5.10d).  All excellent routes and a great workout for the fingers.  We packed it in later in the afternoon and scoped out some other climbing areas on the way home.  I stopped in at Vons for some groceries that evening, probably my favorite grocery store in the US.  The aisles are all laid out just like Safeway in Canada and you can use your Safeway club card for discounts.  However given this was Vegas you could by real beer, wine and hard liquor all at the same time and I spotted some wine on sale for $3!  That night I had a great feast cooked on the last camp fire of the trip.  A huge steak, potatoes and onions, corn on the cob and half a cake I bought at Vons topped off with a bottle of wine that Joe and Anna had left for me. 

I couldn’t believe how nice the camp hosts were, they approached me the next morning to give me $5 change on the camping fee as I had over paid the day before.  Surprise, surprise.  I met up with Heather and Miles that morning and as Miles had a work call Heather and I headed off to Romper Room, right next to the Lotta Balls area.  It took an hour for the approach however it included a very interesting shuffle along a ledge to our final destination.  There were two starred moderate trad routes that were great fun and Heather and I took turns leading up through the varnished rock – Doobie Dance (5.6) and Romper Room (5.7).  We met some folks from Belgium who shared the climbs with us and let me practice my French a bit.  As we were finishing up wondering where to head next Miles arrived thankfully with my jacket as it was decidedly cool.  He lead up Romper Room and we did another lap on it and then headed over to Kindergarten Cop (5.7+) and it was my lead.  I really enjoyed the lead, interesting and varied climbing and a bit of a head space lead as I counted 4 bolts, 2 cams and 1 nut in 130 ft of climbing.  A little run out however there was gear not far below at the more difficult bits.  I had a modest bit of excitement up high in the chicken heads.  These were small marble sized features sticking out of the rock and at one spot the easiest way to climb up however as I was moving off one it broke off giving me an increase in blood pressure but no harm came from it.  Topped out and belayed the other two up and we took turns rapping off and that was pretty much the day.  I wrangled another free shower and headed out for supper with Miles and Heather to Whole Foods, very healthy buffet however I did stop in at Vons on the way home and snarfed several donuts in the parking lot to make up for it, getting some weird looks from the locals in the process.

The next morning I packed up and was heading out by 8:30 am and had a pretty uneventful two day drive back to Canmore arriving in a 17 below cold snap after battling some winter roads with my balding summer tires.  Overall I enjoyed climbing at Red Rocks the most.  A great variety of routes, lots of multi pitch climbing, interesting moderates, great rock and proximity to Los Vegas all make it an area I look forward to returning. 
Total road trip stats (every road trip needs stats!)
Total days – 33
Driving days – 9
Mountain biking days – 5
Hiking days – 2
Rock climbing days – 15
Rest days - 2
Km’s driven – 8,571
Suppers eaten in restaurants – 4
Meals made without spaghetti sauce – 3
Best meal out – Red Rocks Casino buffet
Cheapest campsite – Camp 4 in Yosemite ($5)
Total climbing partners – 9
Climbing partners I wouldn’t care to climb with again – 1
Nights spent a borrowed tent – 28
Best campsite – Joshua Tree Hidden Valley                 
Number of lead falls climbing – 0 (wuss)

Do it again?  In a nanosecond!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Road Trip 2011 Joshua Tree

Road Trip October 2011 – Joshua Tree
Drove in from Bakersfield and got into J Tree early afternoon.  The best place to stay for climbers is hidden valley campground however it is usually full.  I was lucky and there was plenty of spots available and picked one and got set up.  As luck would have it my next door neighbors wandered over and they were a great English couple, Gareth and Julia, I had met in Yosemite.  Went over with some firewood and had beers and a campfire with them and their friends from the UK, Joe and Anna.  Game on, up in the morning and got after some climbing with them.  Joshua Tree is very different from Yosemite in that there aren’t any big walls, you are essentially climbing a bunch of large boulders stacked in odd formations.  Most climbs are a single pitch, however there are a couple of short two pitch routes.  The rock is what makes it fun, I don’t know what it is however it sure has grip (and finger shredding power). 

The first day we got after a 5.7 Buissonier on the Blob which was a bit balancy, and a 5.8 The Flue on Chimney Rock which  Julia lead however it was in the shade and wind so was definitely cold.  We decided all climbs from then on needed to be in the sun.  Retired for a huge brunch of eggs, refried beans, tomatoes, cheese, peanut butter (the one thing I supplied) and pita bread.  Great feast, the day started out cool however was warming up to T shirt weather.  After brunch we headed over to the Lost Horse area, a 5 minute drive and short hike.  Managed to get up a couple of fantastic 5.9’s – Cakewalk and No One Walks in LA.  Gareth lead the first and Julia the second.  Gareth lead an 11a and I managed to follow the upper bit but struggled on the crux (no kidding!).   Great, great day with sore fingers and a big smile.  The highs were getting towards 20 however still had my toque on most of the day as it was much cooler in the shade.

The next day we all went as a group over to Dairy Queen wall and did the three starred 5.7’s.  I lead Scrumdillyishus (which afterwards I recognized as the same climb I lead with Darcy a year and a half earlier).  Gareth lead Mr Misty Kiss which felt a bit harder and Julia lead Frosty Cone.  The walk off on these consisted of a couple of funky moves on chipped holds with loads of air beneath you and then some shinnying down a chimney, probably harder than the climbing.  We then wandered around the corner to the IRS wall and Gareth lead Tax Man a 5.10a.  I don’t know if I was just tired or what but struggled a lot on the lower bit.  The upper was loads of fun as I started to get the hang of liebacking one way and then the other on a steep crack.  I then lowered off, said goodbye and jumped in the car to meet Robert and Judy at their new digs in Palm Desert.  Got there close to 5 and changed out of my climbing duds in their driveway (I wonder if the neighbors complained) and headed to an excellent Mexican place for eats and drinks.  They are in the midst of some big time renovations, however the place is full of 1950’s and 1960’s museum pieces all in perfect working order.  A wealthy lady owned it however didn’t live there and rarely visited with the result being that everything was new in 1970 however not used.  Look forward to seeing their place when it’s done.

The next day was cool with some rain so I hung out a bit, headed to a McDonalds to avail myself of the wifi, bought groceries and managed to get back to camp just as the rain was picking up.  Got lazy and ate cold stuff and jumped in the tent at 6:30 pm to read and bit and drift off to sleep.  Next morning was kind of funny as I took my time over breakfast figuring out what to do.  It was a glorious day and my plan was to go bouldering and then go for a run.  Went around the corner to throw my garbage in the can and here was my buddy Marc camped right beside the garbage.  So jumped in with him and his friend Sheila and went climbing.  We wandered through Real Hidden Valley, got lost and ended up in front of Lloyd Rock.  Decided to stay and Marc lead a tricky 5.9 with a funky corner move into a hand crack and then top roped the 5.10c arête and a fantastic 5.9 that went up a steep lieback into a corner with two splitter cracks.  I tried making a tape glove while waiting as my hands were starting to get torn up, just had time to make a right hand one and did a pretty crappy job of it.  Having said that it still made a difference, hand jams stuck better and my skin was allowed to live a little longer. 

Later on we had some comedy as Sheila had some friends who hauled a BBQ and Keg up intersection rock for a party a pitch and a half above the ground.  We were planning on heading up for the sundown party however when we arrived intersection rock was a total zoo.  There are probably 12 routes on it and every route had people either climbing or rappelling off.  It looked like a comic strip.  We elected to climb Dog Leg across on a bit of rock called Old Woman.  It was a fantastic route and I just finished it up as it got dark.  Unfortunately, it was cold enough that Sheila (being a SoCal girl) elected not to climb.  A fantastic climb with a balancy start and some hard work up steep hand cracks in a corner before an interesting finish.  All this while looking over at the party on intersection rock and hearing the rangers on the loud speaker threatening rather ineffectively.  Rapped down in the dark on the other side, it was great to look down at the campground with folks starting fires and headlamps bobbing as rapping.  I had to check the belay device by feel as it was so dark however it ended well and the ropes did touch the ground.  The day ended in an odd way, Sheila dropped me off at my site and my hands were full so I left my bag beside her SUV.  She then backed up and ran over it, resulting in pretty cool tire marks on the bag, unscathed sunglasses but a broken camera. 

The next day looked a little dreary, didn’t get warmer than 8 above and rained in the afternoon so I went for a 10 km run through the desert over to a real neat old mine site called Wall Street.  Afterwards headed into town for shower, laundry and wifi at Rockin Ronnies.  Joshua Tree the town has a real odd feel to it, one of those places that people have married their cousins one to many times.  After screwing around for awhile I couldn’t get McDonalds wifi to work and while I was sitting there a young guy sits next to me to lament the fact he can’t find a job.  I humored him for awhile until God entered into the discussion and then went back to typing.  As I’m punching the key board I notice one of the McDonald’s employees stealing food out the kitchen door (I’m assuming if you are covering food under your coat leaving the kitchen the goods haven’t been paid for) to take to the play area for his kids.  Then this old guy shows up, walks by the young kid and myself and says don’t go away.  Hits the can and comes back with a computer problem, he can’t get his game to load correctly.  I take a brief stab at it, then notice he’s left us the computer and went back to his table to drink coffee with his friends.  I decide I’ve tried enough and leave the computer with the young guy and hit the road.  I wonder if he ran with it.

Monday drove through the desert to Las Vegas up the direct back way, 3 more hours of absolutely nothing but salt flats, desert and mountains.  A really neat trip, this time without the country music.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Road Trip 2011 Yosemite

Road Trip October 2011 – Yosemite
Enroute to Yosemite I spent the night at Bishop California, just on the eastern side of the Sierra’s.  Bishop is a very famous location to hang glider pilots as it is in the Owens Valley however I couldn’t find anyone who did anything but give me odd looks when I mentioned hang gliding.  The drive to Bishop went through the Utah/Nevada/Californian desert and was actually quite striking.  The back of beyond though as I didn’t have cell phone coverage for the vast majority of the drive and there wasn’t much in the way of “civilization”.  Funny enough the only FM radio stations I could get were country so there I was, driving through the desert listening to Willie Nelson.  The drive from Bishop to Yosemite was quite different and definitely stunning.  Highway 120 runs over Tioga Pass, probably the first time I’ve driven a car above 3000 metres.   The drive down through Tuolumne Meadows was fantastic, with rock formations starting to appear.  It was late in the season (end of October) so most services on this road were closed however there were climbers and hikers setting off along the way.
I arrived in Yosemite itself early afternoon and was staggered by both the rock formations and the level of tourism.  To find the tourist information I had to park some ways away and there was a shuttle bus to the village (and around the valley).  It ended up that there was only room for camping at Camp 4, which suited me well as it is known as the climbing centre.  I had to wait for the ranger for a bit however there were a number of vehicles with Alberta and BC license plates so I met a number of climbers most of who were just finishing up and had climbed some really neat stuff.  Everyone was talking up the big walls which were hard to ignore.  Camp 4 is a scene that isn’t to be missed, 6 people per campsite with a picnic table or two, four bear lockers and a shared fire pit.  Very social and a real scene, all for the price of $5 per night.  I ended up sharing a site with four guys; Kip a guide from Skagway Alaska, Matt a 20 year old from near LA, Keith a guy from Colorado and his friend Dave who had recently moved to Malibu as that is where his “guru” was located.  Quite a riot with everyone going there own way during the day and meeting up for supper, fire and the occasional cocktail.  Mid way through the evening Dave would retire to his tent to meditate and the purple haze gang would disappear briefly.  There is a great notice board for just about everything including climbing partners at camp 4 and I managed to hook up with an ex climbing guide from BC – Marc.  He hadn’t climbed in a bit so the next day we headed out early to check out the Glacier Point shoulder and climbed Glack Center which we eventually found with the help of a couple of locals.  It was a three pitch 5.6 with a great splitter crack, I won the rock, paper, scissors so took the middle pitch which was the highlight.  Great crack climbing and a little stiff for the grade (or given that this is Yosemite everything else is a bit soft which is likely closer to the truth).  Enjoyed the climb and then we moved over and Marc attempt a very run out 5.8 slab but bailed and I didn’t have the nuts to jump in.  We eventually moved over to the Goblet and ran a top rope over to practice slab climbing and get used to the rock.  It is great granite, very much like the Adirondacks in upper state New York.  Most routes are gear routes and there is great gear to be had.
Made my way back to the camp 4 party and was greeted by a great campfire and smores, life is good!  The daytime highs were just into the 20’s which was perfect however it was going down to just above freezing at night and because of the high cliffs surrounding the valley morning was downright cold, the sun doesn’t hit the tent until 10:30 am or so.  Next morning met Marc in the upper pines campground (which was much more civilized, but more expensive and full).  We headed off to the Church Bowl and jumped on Bishop Terrace, a classic 5.8 two pitch crack route.  I got the first pitch which is actually the easier of the two, but it was a great crack route.  After that we went to find Church Layback however someone was on it so moved over to Black is Brown, a 5.8 funky not so classic.  I lead it and it was fun although soiled my pants when I kicked out a nut, my only gear in 15 feet as I was topping out.  All’s well that ends well and we rapped off.  These climbs are all very close to the road and are a touch greasy given the easy access, nothing like bad limestone however just a little slick.  Marc had his eye on Church Crack, a cool 5.10a splitter and he lead and I followed.  I was happy not to thrash about (much) and rapped down as it was getting late.  Got back to camp 4 to a whole different world, crowd #1 had all departed (as I knew they would) and were replaced with a couple from Germany and another couple from Syracuse, New York.   Camp 4 was changing as more of the climbers departed for warmer terrain or home.   Site 23 was going upscale with lots of good food and real, purchased firewood.  We all agreed to do steaks on the fire the next evening, life is good!  Next day, Marc was having a rest day and I couldn’t find anyone to climb with so hiked Vernal Falls up through Nevada Falls to Little Yosemite Valley.  Felt more than a little weird taking a shuttle bus to the start of a hike. 

This would have been the route up Half Dome however Parks had taken out the cables a few weeks before so made do with a shorter trip.  Good fun, lot’s of elevation gain – 850m and absolutely no one past Nevada Falls.  Little Yosemite Valley has a back packers campground with outhouses, bear lockers for food and a notice board with lots of warnings about bears.  Someone had taken a lot of time placing stones as a bit of a staircase on a lot of the trail so it made for an interesting hike.  There were lots of turning leaves and great views of a number of faces, especially Liberty Cap and Half Dome.  Funny enough met both sets of camp mates on the hike at different times.  Back to the campsite with enough time to grab a shower at Curry Camp, splurged and bought a steak and a 6 pack of beer – had a great evening cooking on the campfire and swapping beers.  With more of the climbers leaving camp 4 it was a bunch quieter at night – good for sleeping.    The next day I was determined to climb and Marc wasn’t around so tracked down Scott, a guy from Portland, Oregon.  We set off in the morning for the Five Open Books and after a little futzing found Mungella, a two pitch misnamed 5.6.  Scott lead the first pitch and I was a little spooked when I got to the belay station and he had merely girth hitched a 1” branch of a tree about 3 feet from the roots for a belay.  Needless to say I plugged a bunch of gear in the first 20 feet of the next pitch and resolved to not push the grade that day.  After that we climbed the Big Oak Flake, a 2 pitch 5.7 that I snagged lead on the second pitch as Scott told me stories about breaking an ankle on Brown is Black a few years before, cutting off one of his toes in a lawn mower mishap and taking two 20 foot shippers the day before with scars to prove it.  Interesting times.  Later I lead Claudes Delight and interested 5.7 that was a bit greasy down low.  From there we could top rope Lena’s Lieback which was a great 5.9 lieback. 
Back to Camp 4 where there had been another rotation of camp mates.  The new group included 3 German’s who pretty much kept to themselves but also 3 folks from Belgium who were cycling from Seattle to Mexico.  The cool part was they were cycling with all of their sport climbing gear as well.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much sport climbing in Yosemite so the next day I went climbing with Marc and lent them my rack.  Marc had a brand new rack of double Metolius cams, nuts and even offset cams so I was more than happy climbing on his gear.  We started the day at Manure Pile, the name isn’t really indicative of the climbing.  We started on the first pitch of After 7, a great 5.8 crack.  It actually carries on for 4 more pitches but it was crowded up high and the climbing didn’t look stellar so we jumped on Just Do Do It, a 5.10a face climbing leading to a 5.9 crack.  Great fun, I struggled a bit on the initial 5.10 moves but the 5.9 crack was great fun.  We then headed to New Diversions, a neat area down the valley a bit with very little traffic.  Steep cracks with the biggest chicken heads I’ve ever seen up high.  Marc lead Chicken Pie, which was likely the hardest 5.9 I’ve ever struggled up.  It starts out as a finger crack at the back of a corner, then pinches off to a lieback.  The good news is that when you hit the roof the hard work is over and it is a bit balancy on these great big chicken heads.  Definitely got the pump going, I ended up seconding everything that day.  Didn’t get back to well after dark so had to put off the moving day stuff (shower, laundromat, groceries) until the next morning.  Yosemite was awesome however I was itching to get after some of the longer climbs like Royal Arches, a 16 pitch 5.7, or even one of the walls however it was the end of October and partners were getting scarce and the days short.  The next morning got all of the moving day stuff done, packed the bike up and managed to get out of town about noon.  It was great to take highway 41 south as it passed a great view of the Yosemite Valley itself and the first 50 km were curvy mountain roads with absolutely no shoulder and often large drop offs just the other side of the white line. Great fun but I didn’t push it hard given all of my worldly belongings were heaving themselves back and forth in the rear of the car.  Driving into Fresno was a bit of a culture shock though, true southern Californian with major traffic on concrete freeways.  Bakersfield was a blessing, a great grocery store right next to a car wash and a motel with Monday night football.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Road Trip 2011 Moab

October 17, 2011 – Road Trip Moab 
Set off from Canmore early Monday morning and took highwood pass (K Country).  Beautiful drive, in the space of the first hour and a half saw 3 black bears, 3 elk including a big bull, 2 moose that I had to brake for, 2 white tailed deer and a coyote walking down the highway (that didn’t pay any attention to me).   Hit the border about noon and managed to make it to Idaho Falls (1250 km) in just over 11 hours.  I actually felt pretty good and considered continuing on however it was getting dark and I thought better of it.  Found a motel with wifi and free breakfast and was set.  Next day didn’t get that early a start, about 8:30 and the driving was pretty dull until ducked into highway 6 just past Salt Lake City after lunch.  Neat two lane road and made it to Moab at 3:30 pm.  The folks down at the visitor’s information were very helpful – in no time figured out where the grocery store, laundromat, rec centre (showers), liquor store and good camping were.  Got myself sorted out and found a great camping spot in sand flats up very close to the Slickrock ride.  No water or wood, but great views of the desert and a fantastic sunset, even have the howling of coyotes to send me off to dream land.  Deanna lent me her tent as I forgot mine in Edmonton with the words that it won’t nearly be big enough, it is.

It got colder than I expected Tuesday night, had the sleeping bag zipped up tight and froze the trace of water I left in a pot.  Got up in the middle of the night and a ¼ moon was shining very brightly.  Didn’t get up until 8, just about the time the warming rays of the sun hit the tent.  After breakfast the temperature got up to 13 in the shade (was 18 in the sun!) so I thought it was time to go for a ride just after 9 am.  Darcy and I had ridden Slickrock a year and a half before and it was just like I remembered it.  Very, very fun.  Lot’s of steep ups and downs however in the middle section got a bit of a rhythm going and it felt great.  It’s mostly a loop and last time Darcy and I did it the hard way without knowing, this time I did it the other way – can’t say I noticed any difference.  It’s pretty amazing, not much in the way of trees, just rock and very sticky rock at that.  Amazing what you can climb (and what I had to walk).  Managed to break a chain in the middle, however had all the gear to fix it so no big deal.  Only met 6 people on the trail until just near the end and then started to get a little busier but the parking lot was only half full when I was done.  Roughly 2 ½ hours from my campsite return and had a big grin, however it did take a little out of me. 

After a quick lunch headed out on highway 279 west of Moab to check out the rock climbing on Wall Street and hike up to the Corona Arch.  The rock climbing isn’t that far out of town and scouted a lot of hard looking routes, however did meet Peter and George who gave me a bit of a low down on climbing on sandstone and in Utah.  Watched for a bit and then carried on.  Later on put my name up on a bulletin board in town looking for climbing partners but nothing materialized.  The Corona Arch trail was pretty straight forward however through some very interesting canyons.  A couple of areas where they had literally made bucket steps out of the sandstone along with a hand line and a ladder in one place kept it interesting.   At the top met Jason and Katie hanging out had sat for awhile and talked about road tripping.  Both were doing their level best to keep from being drawn into the work a day world.  Just past the arch itself there were some more bucket steps carved out of the sandstone however no hand line and got a little sketchy.  I backed off and Jason mentioned that friends of his climb up with ropes and walk across the arch and rappel down the other side, neat idea.  Back at the car after an hour and a half and made my way back to the campsite.  Found out that the sun goes down at 6:30 and the temperature goes down with it.  Having said that it got to over 20 during the day and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Porcupine Rim has a great reputation as a great downhill ride however you need a lift back up from town.  However my attention was caught by the guide book mentioning that “or if your Freakin’ Superman ride up from town.  Game on, after all the numbers were a 50 km round trip with a 3,000’ elevation gain – couldn’t be that hard.  Left the campsite at about 9:30 for the 10 km ride to the trail head and quite quickly realized that it was mostly up hill.  Having said that it was along a gravel road with great views of the desert and not much traffic.  Made the trail head in an hour just as three people from Colorado were leaving their vehicle with the bad news that there was 900 more feet of climbing coming up.  It kind of sucked to start the technical uphill bagged but it was still great fun.  Mostly a jeep road however Jeep roads in Moab aren’t what they are in Alberta.  It was mostly rock and more than a few technical bits.  Some I made it through, some I walked over and a few I fell over (what’s a mountain bike ride with a little blood!).  After about another hour made it to a lookout that was just fantastic, a several thousand foot drop off to the valley.  At the same time met a few people just coming down having taken a shuttle to an abbreviated part of the “whole enchilada” and they had already been down hilling for a couple of hours.  Met Lee and Brian from Jasper and rode a fair amount of the descent with them.  The downhill was absolutely fantastic.  Some very quick, some very technical – finally got jumping down and had a lot of practice.  The jeep track slowly turns to single track lower down however I frankly didn’t see a lot of difference.  Great, great fun however did use a whole lot of energy.  Glad to be riding clipless however did crash lightly a couple of times.  Broke my chain once again as shifting down for a climb (there were a lot) however didn’t have to take out any links so all was good.  Near the end some very exposed bits, walked around most of them however did help out a Kiwi girl who took a 15 foot tumble into a pile of rocks.  Looked like she had a concussion a broken collarbone and wrist, but all things considered was darned lucky.  I loved her Australian boyfriend who basically helped her to her feet and told us to carry on and don’t ruin our ride for a bit of a tumble.  Watched her until I was certain that the knock to the head wasn’t overly serious and then carried on as too many people trying to help.  At the end you hit highway 128 and it’s a 10 km ride back into town.  Good thing it was downhill as I was pretty shagged.  Got into town at the 5 hour mark and was bonking big time, the buns I was planning on making lunch with were so stale they resembled hockey pucks so all I had to eat was an apple, a snickers bar and a cliff bar.  Only 5 km left to ride however all uphill back to the campsite, 900 feet of elevation gain to be precise.  Fortunately, just on the edge of Moab on the way up is an old style hamburger joint called Milt’s.  I stopped in for a double cheese burger and fries.  Funny when I was about half way through enjoying it (and I did) I started to add up what kind of food I was eating and how likely, or unlikely, it was going to help getting me up the hill.  Probably the most useful thing would have been a coke that I passed up for water.  In any event, the climb up wasn’t as bad as I expected.  A hot grind for sure and burping up the hamburger all the way wasn’t overly taxing.  Made it back to the campsite just after 4 pm, after 5:45 hours of riding time and pretty much shattered.  Grabbed a pepsi out of the cooler and laid on the picnic table using the cutting board as a head rest for some time.  Eventually made it back to town for a shower at the rec centre and bought a few groceries.  Managed to find the liquor store (only one in town and quite hidden).  Bit of a bizarre set up but who can complain when a bottle of Gin can be had for 8 bucks!  Fortunately, Utah repealed the really draconian bits of its liquor laws however still a little weird.  Only liquor store I’ve ever been in that prices beer by the bottle!

Thursday night didn’t feel as cold as previous, even took my toque off for a while.  Got up pretty early Friday and took my bike into get the chained checked.  Sure enough, time for a new one so got one installed and headed out to Amasa Back.  Great ride, got the parking lot screwed up so rode an additional km or so up a gravel road however the ride was a little more mellow than the day before but fantastic in its own way.  Didn’t start riding until 10 and messed up the initial downhill to the stream crossing and then started uphill to find a line of roughly a dozen jeeps.  They were climbing it and taking turns up a particular nasty bit.  Great folks and let me and a couple of others go first.  Then we carried on climbing with the additional push of staying ahead of the jeeps.  It is an out and return ride with about 500 m of climbing and great to check out the descent on the way up, theoretically as I seem to forget everything as soon I turn around.  It’s just the right slope to be able to ride most of the uphill however a couple of very technical bits that I either came off or walked around.  I’m starting to get the hang of watching the tire tracks and picking the best line.  Probably half a dozen of us making our way up but half way ran into a couple more jeeps and 6 motorcycles attempting to climb a very technical bit, unsuccessfully, all very friendly.  Good thing I was following a guy from Salt Lake City and his three boys as I would have missed a couple of important turn offs, one right had up and over a small cliff band where a small trail goes straight and just at the last sign it is important to go hard left.  The last portion was slickrock and a bit of a huff up.  Made it to the top and had great views and a snack break.  Found out later that you can carry on to a plaque in the rock for another 10 minutes.  Turned it around and headed downhill.  Some places where you could really rock and some technical bits however nothing like the day before.  Good fun, only walked around a couple of spots and no train wrecks.  Not even a broken chain!  2 hours up and one down, met a couple of girls from Washington and Colorado at the end and finished up with them while watching a jeep have a hard time of the last section.  Lunch in the car, filled up my water jug in town and headed to the campsite.  

I had read about the Fisher Towers and thought it sounded worth checking out, a friend had mentioned that one of her favorite climbs in the area was Corkscrew, a 5.8 A0 and I thought I’d check it out.  Drove out of town on 128 for about half an hour, picked up a guy hitch hiking from Minnesota freshly moved to Salt Lake City.  Didn’t make the parking lot until 4 so puffed my way up some absolutely fantastic scenery.  It was a fantastic hike in just a breath taking environment.  You skirt your way around the base of a lot of the towers and then out onto an outcrop and a great, great view.  There was an older man from Idaho hanging out at the top with his tripod waiting for the light to get just so.  We chatted for a bit and then I headed on down.  2 hours of great fun, some of it a bit scrambly on interesting rock and enough route finding challenges to keep things interesting.  I got back to camp just after the sun went down and mixed up the one pot wonders with potatoes and sausages.  Not very enticing but filled the cavity in my gut, moving forward I think I’ll just drown everything in spaghetti sauce. 

The next day had a bit of a relaxing morning, both my stove and bike needed a little TLC and it felt good to hang out in the sun.   One of the neighbours in the campground suggest Pipe Dream as a good technical ride and finally got off my butt and gave it a go later in the afternoon.  Good thing as it was pretty much shaded which helped.  It’s a very technical single track that follows the side of the canyon, roughly 16 km out and back.  Great fun, although I’m told the locals attempt to do it without dabbing their feet along the way.  I lasted about 15 feet before needing to take a foot out or falling over and seemed to repeat this every 15 feet for the first half an hour.  Very technical and a lot of fun, it is fully of little ups and downs and really doesn’t gain or lose any elevation.  Every little dip you have to hit with just the right amount of speed and there is usually a surprise if you have too much.  That and it is a little precipicy at times and you really wouldn’t want to come off the track.  I attempted to come back on the gravel road at the base however ended up on the highway.  Should have just rode the trail back, all in all it took two hours and I felt like I was in a technical mountain bike school.

My time in Moab happened to coincide with a four day school holiday and is the last really busy time of the year before it slows down over winter.  Over the last couple of days it definitely started to take on a bit of a zoo like atmosphere with trailer after trailer coming through after dark looking for camping spots. 
On Sunday, I wanted to make up for my lazy day and got up early and attempting to find a ride called Sovereign Classic Loop.  It’s a 25 km loop north of Moab that has been put in pretty recently.  It took me awhile to find the start and it involved some four wheel driving in the Audi, always a scary thing.  I finally thought I found the parking lot about 10 am however it felt a bit weird being the only car there.  Started off, found the trail and it turned out to be great fun.  You ride Sovereign track out and Saltwash track back and both had a lot of climbing, technical riding and the occasional bit of letting ‘er rip.  Great fun and did add to my mounting scab collection.  It took me about 3 hours and I was happy to be off the trail early as it was 25 above and there was no shade.   After that cleaned the bike, myself and the laundry – it’s time to move on and I’m looking forward to checking out Yosemite.