Spring Break, 2011

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Friday –

The day started out rough enough: I got up a lot later than I wanted, and it was pouring out.  So, instead of my usual bike into work, I missed out on my workout and drove into the office instead, getting in a good hour later than I had intended. The day turned around fairly quickly, ramping up the chaos within an hour of my arrival.  I spent the day tying down my projects and making sure everyone was ready for my week-long absence, finally heading home by 1:45, again nearly an hour later than I wanted, having spent it chasing down loose threads and finishing up a late-started project.

After I got home I finished packing up —I had left all my clothes out, having only packed up my gear the night before— and chowed down on some leftovers that Big-T had brought over, and generally just relaxed and tried to keep myself calm.  I was stoked for this trip, more excited than I’d been in ages.  Three-Thirty finally rolled around, and we headed out to meet Kelsey at NEU at the appointed 4:00.  We met her at the Wentworth Lot, and jumped onto the most (at least so it seemed) traffic-clogged road in Boston: Storough drive.

Storough can be one of the most fun roads to drive down, in my opinion, but today it was quite possibly the worst one ever: the road was completely packed to the brim, and was moving along at MAYBE ten mph.  But we finally made it through the traffic and onto I-93, where we pushed through to the airport.  My terminal was before Kelsey’s international departure, so I jumped out and headed in, bidding farewell to Kelsey and T.  I checked my bag (yep, got bitch-slapped with a $50 fine for over-weight), got through security, and headed inside onto the plane.

Waiting at the terminal was actually a fairly fun time; mostly composed of chilling and watching Clerks II and near boarding time I started chatting with the lady next to me about the strange TSA setup going on by the gate.  Turn out we were selected for a “random” extra screening… yeah, this is why you shouldn’t look and dress like a hippy… TSA can’t tell the difference between hippy and terrorist, I guess.  No matter, I was having fun with my conversation.  Turns out the woman sitting next to me was a veteran traveler who held many of the same opinions I do: people need to calm down and chill out, knowing yourself is important, sex is awesome (don’t ask how we got onto that topic…), and having fun is clearly key.  Fun aside: she’s the owner of a lingerie company too. 🙂  She was flying home from some sort of show in Boston, so we chatted for a while until her isle got called up; one of the upsides of owning a fancy underwear company is that you get to fly first class.  For jet blue that’s just extra legroom but they still get to board early.

After we got onto the plane came the usual set of instructions, followed by a bit of unusual instructions.  Turns out Boston was in the midst of a storm, and that the prevailing winds on our route were horrible.  Epically horrible.  Like, holy shit horrible.  Bad enoughthat  our plane couldn’t hold enough fuel to get all the way to Vegas by best guess, and so we’d need to stop in Vegas.  Ohh, and de-ice the plane.  Oh, and wait an extra few hours on the tarmac in Boston.  Yeah.

The flight itself wasn’t really anything special; my seat-mates were both very attractive girls, but neither one really had any interest in chatting so I just napped and read my book (I brought Vagabonding to get me into the travel mood).  We did make one pit-stop in Vegas to refuel, and by 2:00 we were finally landing in LA.  Once I got to Hertz after getting my completely-soaked-through bag (thanks, Jet Blue), I finished up my reservation and picked up the car.  See, originally I was going to splurge on myself and get a Charger, maybe upgrading it to a Camaro.  But… they didn’t have any in stock, unfortunately.  So I got stuck with a different car… a Ford Mustang GT Convertible.  Yep, life sure is tough 😛

Saturday –

Lets ignore that Saturday actually started on an airplane, and I’ll assume you can read the previous post.  I think I’m going to start Saturday when I left the rental parking lot…

After I left the lot I set up my GPS and headed for my buddy Andrew’s place in Northern LA.  It took about an hour to drive from the airport, but I got there pretty quickly (thanks to “accidentally” hitting 80 within the first few seconds of driving).  I fell asleep for the night around 4:30, planning to wake up at exactly… “Bah fuck it, its raining out and I’m tired.  I’ll wake up when I want to.”

“When I want to” turned out to be multiple times… the usual “wake up, go back to sleep, repeat” deal that I have on most relaxed weekends. Rather nice, to be honest.  But when I finally fully woke up it was ~10:00 LA time, and I was ready to get some food and get on the road.  Andrew and I jumped into the Mustang and dropped the roof, heading out onto the highway for some of LA’s famously legit Mexican food.  We ate a nice brunch, hit Best Buy to get me an iPod adaptor for the car, hit a sports store to grab a guidebook to Joshua Tree, and generally relaxed and hung out, swapping stories of random crazy girls and catching up with each others lives.  It was a pretty good time; I really enjoy spending time with people who i don’t usually get to hang out with, since I love hearing all the new stories that I’ve missed out on.

But in the end Andrew was not coming out to Joshua Tree, and so we parted ways and I got back onto the highway heading to the park.  The drive took me a little over three hours, but was one of the best times I’ve had in ages thanks to the sick car.  Being used to my 20-year-old Honda Accord meant that I wasn’t used to the raw power behind the Mustang, and to be honest it was rather intoxicating.  I was loving every second of the driving, whether the top was down (most of the time) or up (for the end, thanks to the rain).  When I arrived at Joshua Tree I found out that my GPS had brought me to the completely ass-wrong end of the park, so I got an extra 20 mile drive as a bonus.  The last 10 miles was amazing though, since it was the super-winding roads of the national park, with no one else on them, and so I had the chance to really flex the cars handling.  It responded pretty well, and in no time I was setting up my tent at the Hidden Valley campground.

I set up next to a brother and sister (brother was named Ben… its starting to get scary how many Ben’s I’m meeting…), and shared a few beers, stories, and a fire with them for the rest of the night.  Turns out Other-Ben got his law degree from BU, and was biking from San Diego through the South West, and his sister had driven down from Phoenix earlier that day.  We hung out and had a pretty good time, though the amount of howling from the coyotes was a little bit concerning.  Either way, I made myself a pretty solid dinner of pasta and chicken-sausage sauce and headed to bed scarily early, hitting the sleeping-bag at around 9:30.  But crashing early means waking up early, which means more climbing…

Sunday –

Sunday started out rather impressively early for me, probably due to the insanely early time I crashed last night.  My phone had started dying over the night and so I had turned it off and thus had no idea what time it was when I woke up.  I got everything together and did a basic packing up (so that the site would be occupied as long as possible, to hold it for the others) and started walking around the campsite, looking for groups with a third wheel.  I ended up hearing about a group through a pair of climbers I had talked to earlier, and walked over to their campfire to introduce myself.

Turns out the climber looking for a partner was a guy by the name of Ben (third I had met to date), and was part of a three-person climbing team.  I chatted with them for a while, shooting the shit about pretty much everything, and then headed back to my site to get all my gear in order.  When Ben got over, we stopped by the ranger station for some coffee, and got an extra helping of BURN along the way… one of the rangers there had a very “unique” sense of humor, that was comprised completely of “you are such an idiot, why are you still alive?” style of comments.  Funny, but a little annoying at the same time.  Needless to say, we didn’t stay at the ranger station too long, and headed out for a formation called “intersection rock”.

The rock was very aptly named, since it was located at the intersection of the road and the campground, and was covered in dozens of perfect cracks and other climbs.   I had looked at it earlier while wandering, and was completely ready to bust up the face.  Unfortunately Ben’s partners had already snagged the route that I had been drooling over by the time we got there.  So after a quick consultation of the book, we picked a route called “Bats Crack”, a fairly easy two-pitch line that went pretty much straight up to the top, following a perfectly-sized chimney system.  At the end of the first pitch we decided to combine the two, since Ben had already done the route and knew a single rope could make it up, and I was feeling really good at that point.  I ran into a bit of trouble a few times, with strange gear placement (I had brought along his #5 and #6 Camalots) and slightly exposed moves, but overall the route was amazing.  <see pictures> At the top I built a quick anchor by slinging a massive boulder, and Ben started climbing up.

Once Ben was at the top I took a moment to look around while he chatted with his buddies.  The view was amazing.  Being able to see the entire Joshua Tree valley, from mountain range to mountain range, was truly breathtaking.  To be honest, it was even more impressive than when I was at the Grand Canyon, simply because the vista was small enough to be believable, but still jaw-dropping.  We hung out at the top for a bit, chatting with a free-soloist who came up after us, and then Ben showed me the rap point for the route, saying that he was going to down climb it, and asking me to bring his gear down with me.  Again, the rappel here was amazing, simply thanks to the views and the sheer size of the rock I was lowering off of.  The rappel didn’t go all the way down, instead leaving me at a wide ledge that I scrambled down.

I didn’t end up seeing Ben again that day, instead leaving his gear by their packs and heading out to do some bouldering around the campsite before heading to Tucson.  I did some amazing chimney problems, wandering around for a few hours and still only seeing a portion of the campground climbs.  I nearly lost my boots (after taking them off and leaving them to do a long top-out problem), but thanks to the help of a guy named Justin I was able to find them again.  Justin and I sat down for a bit and chatted, again talking about everything and anything; specifically about vagabonding and generally staying off the grid.  Our chat was cut short, however, when we saw the emergency vehicles driving up to the crag.

We walked over to where the emergency crews were working, making sure to stay back enough to be out of the way, but stay close enough to see what was happening.  We found out that a woman had been top-roping, and thanks to a sloppy belay had fallen ~10 ft to the deck, shattering her ankle.  The entire rescue took just about half an hour, but she was finally brough far enough down off the climb (the climb started up a nasty approach) that she could be stretchered out to the ambulance.   A rather grim reminder of how dangerous climbing can be, and how painful a simple thing like top-roping can become.

With that nice news, I headed back to the car, finished packing, and started on my way to Tucson.  I stopped in a diner to charge my phone, and ended up completely changing my plans around.  See, originally I was going to leave for Tucson on Sunday, and stay there with my dad on Monday.  But I hadn’t gotten to climb much, and the weather for Monday was forecasted to be nearly perfect: high 50’s with no clouds and light wind.  After talking with my dad about the change in plans, I texted Daniel to update him, Danielle to update her, and my Mom to keep her from worrying. 🙂  With all that settled, I paid my tab, unplugged my phone, picked up a new climbing guidebook (I had accidentally bought the bouldering guide), and headed back to camp.

On the way back to Hidden Valley, I ran into a huge line of traffic; people slowed down, people swerving around, and most everyone with their hazard lights on.  Confused, I started to go around them when I finally noticed the cause of everyone’s alarm: two horses running wildly down the wrong side of the road.  The horses had their full tack and saddle on, but the riders were nowhere in sight and the horses were effectively just following each other.  Some drivers were trying to pull over and force the horses to stop, but the best that people were able to accomplish was to get them onto the correct side of the road.  I tried to help out as best as I could (honestly mostly hoping to have a story about “wrangling Mustangs in a Mustang Convertible”), but luckily for me a guy in a Jeep Wrangler (“Wrangling horses in a Wrangler”) was able to push them into a corral where the sheriffs department finally caught them.

Once I got back to Hidden Valley after the excitement with the horses, I grabbed the same campsite that I had the night before, set up my tent, and went wandering around looking for some fun bouldering problems.  I didn’t find any specific problems, but ended up doing a traverse of nearly the entire intersection wall before finding a cool little nook about 10 feet up and taking a quick relaxation break.  I just sat and watched the sunset from my little hideaway from the world, thinking about how everything was so fucked up in so many ways, but that right here, right here? In this little hole in a rock wall, everything was perfect.  Nothing was wrong.  I was safe, moderately warm, and happy.  If only everyone could find their own little hole in the rock, so much violence could be avoided…

By the time I came down from my “Zen-zone”, the sunlight was nearly spent, so I hiked back to my boots, packed up the few things I had brought, and started walking back to camp.  On the way I ran into the group that had introduced me to Ben in the first place, so I sat and chatted with them for a bit about our days, finding out that they had finished 9 full routes that day, but had actually planned on a good bit more.  As we were chatting a pair of boulderers came up, asking if they could try the problem right behind the guys’ campsite; and I asked if I could join them for a bit.

The problem they were asking about was one I had heard of before; one of the major classics of the Hidden Valley called Caveman and rated V7+.  I watched them pull the first few moves, then the last few moves, and then try to link the two sets together.  Then I tried.  This was one of those situations that I’m really glad that I don’t really get embarrassed easily… where they had trouble two or three moves in, I couldn’t even do the starting move consistently.  For my defense it consisted of pinching a corner with nearly nothing to hold onto, and then pulling yourself up so your feet were level with your arms.  But still… a nice little dose of “hey, you’re not good enough to start a V7.  Deal with it” is always good to keep the ego in check, right?

After bouldering I headed back to camp to finish setting everything up, and jumped into the car to write parts of this entry, and wait for Daniel and co. to get to the site, since their ETA was 7:00.  Seven rolls around… no car.  Seven fifteen… “I’m starting to get hungry” seven Thirty… “Yep, hungry.  Screw them, I’m starting dinner and a fire.  And… a Cigar.”  Which I did.

Dinner was the same deal as the night before; pasta with chicken and sausage sauce, with some cheese added this time.  The fire was built out of the firewood that I had picked up earlier that day, after deciding to stay the extra night, and the cigar was an Oliva Serie G that my buddy Dave had recommended.  All three were amazing, and all three were done by 9:30 that night, when I finally gave up on waiting for Daniel to arrive.

I finally gave up waiting and hit the sack around 10:00, and was woken up sometime well after that by screams of “BEN! WE’RE HERE BEN!” from Stef, and the silhouette of Daniel kicking the side of my tent.  I believe my reply was succinct and efficient, “Go die in a fire.  I’ll deal with you late-assholes tomorrow”.  After which I rolled over and promptly went back to sleep.

Monday –

I woke up with the dawn again, leaving my tent at what I would guess to be around 6:30 or 7:00.  I took a short stretch-walk around the campsite and held my morning visitation to the bathrooms, and then started in on making myself some Coco.  However, I learned the hard way that my fuel canister was exactly two meals, and not two meals and a cup of coco.  So I carefully walked around Stef’s side of the tent, and found Daniel, and woke him up as gently as a could- by kicking the sidewall and asking if he was smart enough to bring stove fuel.  Well, turns out he had decided to be badass and bought himself a whisperlight stove system, white gas and all.

The downside to a whisperlight is that, while it’s kind of cool, it can be annoying to start if you’re not used to it, and the fuel can get everywhere if you’re not careful.  Well… Daniel was neither used to the stove, nor careful with the fuel on the first attempt, which ended in me running over and pulling the fuel bottle off the stove before the flames reached it and blew up our picnic table.  After that show, I gave Daniel a quick overview of the system and got it started, setting my coco water to boil in the process.  Our breakfast consisted of my cheese and bagels, a few eggs from Daniel, and some of the beef jerky that I had brought along.  Note to the wise: don’t try to make a bacon-egg-and-cheese bagel with Beef Jerky; it doesn’t work and just makes a mess when you try to tear the Jerky.

Once Breakfast was over we started prepping for the day of climbing ahead.  I commandeered Rebecca and headed off in search of Justin, who we found just as he was deciding to head out with another group to a place called Wonderland.  We stayed and chatted with the group for a bit, and then headed back to our camp to rack up gear.  On the way out I met a cool photographer from Sydney, and we talked a bit about life and everything; specifically about his favorite type of photography: urban decay, such as outdoor posters and graffiti.  Even with all of these distractions though, we did finally make it to the rock.

I started the climbing off by leading the first pitch of Mikes Book, a beautiful 5.6 classic chimney/crack system taking a straight line up Intersection Rock.  The first pitch was stellar, though I heard a lot of comments about certain grunting and moaning noises I was making as I was fighting with the climb.  Meh… everyone knows people sound dirty when climbing, I’m used to it.  My favorite line was as I was moving out of the vertical crack and into the sloped section, “Oh my god this hold is amazing!!!  WAIT!  This next hold is better!  HOLY SHIT THIS THIRD HOLD IS THE BEST HOLD EVER!”  It was seriously like that for a good ten feet; bomber bucket after bomber bucket, with perfect views all around and lots of chances to slam a piece of pro home.

After I topped out, I belayed Daniel up.  He brought the second rope with him, and we set up a top-rope for the girls for while we were finishing the second pitch.  Initially we were going to have the girls follow us up the whole climb, but the second pitch turned out to be just about 10ft too long for my rope to be used as a top-rope system.  No matter, my lead of the second pitch was amazing; though the top portion seemed to be a long 15ft run out, it was made much safer by a surprise bolt that I found by nearly stepping on it.  The rest of the climb was classic Joshua Tree crack perfection, just bomber lie-backs and hand-jams.  And, same as the day before, the views from the top were stellar.  Daniel and I rappelled off the far rap point, and then circled back to meet up with the girls before I had to leave for Tucson.

My drop-dead leaving-the-wall time was Noon, and we got down off the wall by around 11, which left what I thought was enough time for one more lead.  Not so, it turned out, because Stef needed to be taught how to do a changeover.  Something that’s generally simple, but even after Daniel and Stef were both up at the top, it took them nearly 40min of dicking around to finally get back to the bottom, and by that point noon had come and gone.  I did get a chance to shoot the shit with Rebecca for a bit, but I was still a bit annoyed about missing out on a second lead for the day.

So we headed back to the cars, I had a bit of lunch, packed up, and prepped to head out.  I took everyone on a quick “check out what the Mustang can do!” ride, which was fun, and then started the seven hour drive to Tucson.  I opted to take the route through Joshua Tree instead of the route around the park; partially because it was shorter, and partially because it was amazingly beautiful.  The ride through the park was by far the most fun I’ve had driving a car to-date, although I quickly learned the danger of driving in a desert in a convertible with the roof down; sunburn.  To save my face from further burnination, I used by bandana as a face-mask, held it up with my shades, and wore my hat to save my forehead.  This system worked very well, although I did decide to pop the top up around 5:30, just to give myself some calmer air and a chance to loose the bandana.

Before I did that though, I got to meet the good state troopers of the state of California.  I was cruising down the highway at a bit above the average speed, just enough that I was entertained by passing most of the cars.  The danger was that I was on a desert highway, and most cars were doing 90.  So… my average speed was around 100, and the Statey clocked me at a cool 95 mph.  He was super-chill though, and actually seemed interested in talking to me about my vacation and California and life in general (honestly, he’s alone on the highway in the middle of nowhere.  Dude’s got to be BORED), and was willing to knock the ticket down to 79 mph, as long as I take a driving safety course online in the future.  I obviously agreed, and thus will have to deal with a whole slew of online fun ASAP…

But I did finally make it into Tucson and to my Dad and step-mom’s house in time for fresh cookies and reheated BBQ ribs.  Before I headed in though, I made my dad jump in the car for a quick drive around the block, which got us both in trouble with my Step-Mom, but she had a ball when she saw what I had rented 🙂  Once I got inside I chowed down like there was no tomorrow, and we watched the end of Silverado on TV.  Then my Dad and I fired up the Chiminea (a sort of fire-pot used as an outdoor fireplace) and sat around the fire chatting and roasting s’mores.  A very good start to my time in Tucson, I will definitely admit.

Tuesday –

I awoke Tuesday to a dog in the face.  My dad had gotten two tiny puppies (the little cat-sized dogs) a while back, and one was currently putting his tongue up my nose as a “HI!  WAKE UP! I LOVE YOU!” greeting.  Once I got myself out of bed we all hung out for a bit, watching the morning news, until the call of “what should we have for breakfast?  I’m thinking… PANCAKES!” range out from my dad.  See, when my sister and I were little he’d always make us pancakes on Saturday mornings when we were with him, and so they’ve always been “our breakfast”.  We’ve got a fairly standard, if awesome, recipe that we use, so I gave a hand in the kitchen making the batter and prepping the kitchen.  We, of course, added some blueberries to the pancakes, and then ate a rather amazing breakfast; amazing both for the taste and for the fun memories it brought back.

Our plan for the day was a fairly low-key one; relax for the morning and go shooting in the afternoon.  Well, since morning -relax was pretty much done, my dad opened up the gun safe and we cherry-picked a few guns to bring out to the range.  Our final choices were a 30-06 scoped hunting rifle that my dad used to bring down the elk that we ate for what seemed like an entire winter (a very tasty winter… Elk Jerky = awesome), a SKS rifle like the ones that the Viet-Cong used in Vietnam, a Kimber .45 pistol, and my step-grandpa’s .44 Magnum revolver.  Yeah, I was a little intimidated, to be honest, but it’d been years since I had a chance to do some target practice with a rifle, and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

Once we got to the range we signed in, picked up the few things we needed (eye and ear protection and an “action-clear” flag), and went to the 100 yard range.  The range was completely empty today, so we set up our targets in peace, pulled out the 30-06 and the binoculars, and started firing.  I was actually much better than I expected, and we went through the 20 rounds that we had brought pretty quick; I stayed within the silhouette for both sets, though my dad was definitely a good bit more accurate that I was.  The SKS was by far my favorite gun through, partially because it was easier to keep on target since it was a semi-auto instead of the bolt-action 30-06, and partially because of the feel of the old wood and the old-school construction.  It’s a simple gun, but it’s very good at what it was designed to do.  In our last set I was able to keep all my shots within the bulls-eye section of the target that we had set up.

The handguns were more a lesson in humility than anything else, to be truthful; neither of us were very good right off the line.  The Magnum revolver was just honestly intimidating, mostly because of my first experience with it back when I was 8 or so, and my hand hurt for the next two days.  Now I could easily hold it through the shots, but I still wince and anticipate the recoil before firing.  The Kimber was more like what I’m used to after shooting with Rich and Mike, since we usually rent semi-auto .45s.  That didn’t mean that I was superb with it though, and I quickly switched back to the SKS after a few clips from both handguns.  All in all we probably emptied 50 or 100 shells on that range, and we had a really good time calling in the shots with the binoculars and helping each other out by saying how far off and in what direction.

After we packed up from the range we headed back home, where Marlon and Denise were already home from their errands and were relaxing on the couch.  My dad and I cleared out the truck and brought the guns in to clean them, grabbing a quick snack and a few cookies along the way.  Denise made me an AMAZING smoothie, and my dad grabbed a quick cup of coffee (he seriously drinks two pots a day), and we set up the table outside to strip and clean the pistols.

We had a fairly good time remembering how to pull Denise’s Kimber apart, and we ended up fully field-stripping both handguns to give them a complete clean and oil.  Once we finally got the Kimber apart my dad showed me how to take the brushes to each part, which oils to use on which sections, and how to reassemble the gun quickly and efficiently.  We took a quick break for dinner, which was some excellent grilled chicken with potatoes and carrots, and vegged out on the couch with Denise and Marlon for a bit before heading back and finishing the guns off.

After everything was put away, we watched a quick black-and-white movie on the oldies channel, and then got ready to head for bed.  After the ladies went to sleep my Dad and I stayed up for an hour or two just talking, checking out the Mustang, checking out his new Motorcycle, and generally just hanging out and talking about everything.  This is exactly what I miss most about living near my dad; when I did live near him I didn’t really have anything to talk to him about… now that we have things to talk about, we live thousands of miles away.  Thus is life.  But video games and the phone keep us together, and small trips like this are really key for both of our sanities… I don’t know what it is about my dad and I, but somehow we just attract insane drama and psychotic situations, and those can really start to wear on a guy if he doesn’t have someone who knows what its like.  Luckily, I have my dad.

But… time isn’t infinite, and we did end up heading to sleep after a while; him having to get up at 5:30 for work in the morning, and me heading back to Joshua Tree the next day.  We promised that we’d share a quick hug in the morning before he left, and crashed around midnight.

Wednesday –

I awoke to dog-tongue again, for the second day in a row.   was sort of expecting it by this point though, so it wasn’t as shocking as it was on Tuesday… though it was still a bit strange.  I found out that my Dad was still in the process of leaving, so I got up quick in order to hang out with him for a bit before he headed to work.  We got to check out his new Harley together for a bit, and then he headed to work and I headed inside to take a quick shower before taking Denise and Marlon to breakfast.

We went to a really cool place called “Roosters Kitchen” in southern Tucson, a place that served huge portions of really good home-cooked breakfast.  I had the usual pancakes, eggs, and meats while the ladies had eggs and grits and such, and we talked about pretty much everything; from the creepy goth-girl wearing WAY too much makeup sitting across from us to the general state of the world and how Denise’s stepdad used to pan for gold in the Arizona wilderness.  It was a really nice breakfast, since I almost never get to spend time alone with Denise and her mom; while them and I disagree on a good number of issues, we really agree on the important things in life, like self-responsibility and the simplicity of being a good person.

After breakfast we drove back home, I packed up, said my final goodbyes, and hit the long dusty road.  From my maps it looked like a 400 mile trip back, so I was on the road by 11:30 Arizona time, or 10:30 Joshua-Tree time.  The ride was pretty much what I espected it to be, though since I had bought sunscreen I was able to keep the roof down the entire time.  there really isn’t much to say about the 400 miles from Tucson to Joshua Tree, except that I listened to lots of excellent music and was extremely content with my situation for the entire time.

By the time I got into Joshua tree the sun was starting to get pretty close to the horizon… just enough time for a quick few bouldering problems.  I stopped at a campground called White Tanks and busted around for a bit; climbing a few really fun problems and taking tons of pictures.  One of my favorites was this neat scar of hard granite on the otherwise sand-stone-like granite of Joshua Tree, where the scar ran at a 45 degree angle, giving me solid hands on the scar, and great smearing feet on the gritty rock.  I messaed around in a few chimneys and slot canyons that I found too, and just had a good time playing around on the rock.  Once the sun had completely set though, I headed back to the road towards Hidden Valley, where I was going to meet up with Daniel and co.

But… when I got to our campsite, I was in for a rude awakening; there was a strange car in the site I had reserved for Daniel and myself.  In fact, no one had seen the three of them since before this morning, it seemed like they had left the camp late night on Wednesday.  I did a full search of the campgrounds to no avail, and my run into town to call their cellphones yielded straight-to-voicemail replies.  So with a heavy heart (not literally, since Daniel had all my gear), I headed back to camp to set up a tent alone.

I ended up having an amazing night though, thanks to a few really cool older campers who had set up a huge fire that drew climbers from all over the campground.  Someone had cooked a few steaks and was giving them away, so I quickly got in on that action and had one of the best-tasting steaks that I’ve ever eaten.  The seasonings were perfect, and the steak was just thick enough to hold in the juices, but thin enough to be easily chowed down on.  I tried to eat the Coconut that I had bought on the road, but upon opening it I found a huge growth of Black Mold inside the shell… definitely not something that I would ever want to eat.  So… into the fire it went.

The night was spent telling stories and drinking beers, reveling and relaxing with really cool people.  I heard stories ranging from epics on whitehorse and Devils tower to the background on a couple who had just arrived in California from Switzerland and had just gotten their first speeding ticket.  We all had fun, and found out that many of us had lived in the same areas at one point or another.  Small world, the climbing community…  But like all good things the fire-revelry came to an end, and everyone wandered back to their camps.  I headed back to set up my tent and gear, and was sound asleep by 9:45; nice and early so I could get up for the first rays of sun on the boulders.  Hopefully I’d be able to find a team going out that I could second, since I at least had my harness.  But, if all else fails I’d just kick around camp and do some bouldering as best I could, since Daniel still had my bouldering guide…

add in stories about Whitehorse and Devils tower; epic on Inferno with rappelling and slings and late, and dehydration and motocyclists and falling rocks.

Thursday

Instead of the usual dog-tongue-in-the-nose, I awoke to Rebecca calling my name.  Turns out Daniel and crew had just camped out at a new site so they could “get more sun”, and hadn’t thought to leave a note or anything.  Or… you know… talk to their site-mates of people nearby.  To be honest, nothing really too suprising, but still a rather nice relief that I wouldn’t be reduced to random un-aimed bouldering for the entire day.

So, after some chatting with my fire-friends from the night before and lots of slow and painful getting ready from Daniels camp, we were ready to hit the wall.  We picked Intersection Rock again, partially for the sweet routes and partially for its proximity to our tents.  We decided to climb a 5.7 single pitch named Pinnacle, that would top out at the anchors to Bat Crack.  Our plan was for me to lead Pinnacle, and for Daniel to lead the second pitch of Bat Crack, thus getting all four of us to the summit of Intersection; finally giving the girls a full summit, since they hadn’t had a chance to do any multi-pitch the last few days.  I loved Pinnacle; I had been eyeing it earlier in the week, and the chance to climb it was a dream come true.  It started out as a fairly standard chimney, and ended up as a perfect hand crack, arching up and to the left.  M lead was nice and smooth, and after anchoring in I let Stef second it, so she could finally get a chance to see real trad placements.

The whole process went suprisingly smooth; getting all four onto the ledge was actually much easier than I anticipated.  Once we were all up Daniel and I re-racked the gear, and he headed up the second pitch.  However, about three moves in we ran into some trouble; Daniel had no idea where to plug pro for the crux move.  After about ten minutes of floundering he decided to downclimb, and I racked up my gear for another pitch of leading.  To be honest, it was kind of nice knowing that I’m needed, and very nice to know that every climb I’ve done so far had me on the sharp end.  No seconding for this cat; clearly way too cool for that.  Though I’m sure Red Rocks will prove me wrong 🙂

My lead was pretty much the same as when I had busted it with Ben on Sunday; a fair number of semi-sketchy placements, and lots of really fun jamming and chimneying.  Daniel followed me up so he could see how I protected the tough moves, and still didn’t like the placement choices that I had made.  They were solid though, he agreed, just a bit sketchier than he’d be comfortable with.  After Daniel got up we prepped the rope to throw down for the girls, and ran into the first problem… we missed the first throw, and the knotted end of the rope got stuck in the crack about 60ft down from our station.

So, I jumped on rappell and headed down to get the rope.  I freed it fairly easily, and threw the spare end down to the girls, since I was only a few dozen feet from them at that point.  then I started the painful process of ascending the line back up to Daniel; ten minutes later I was at the top and exhausted.  Rebecca took the third climb, and did suprisingly well for having so much exposure; She took one nice fall (we could hear her scream echo across most of the valley), but busted up the route nearly as quickly as Daniel had.  Then it came to Stefs turn, which meant yet another throw of the rope…

Well, the rope didn’t get stuck the second time, but it did miss repeatedly.  Luckily we had some help from a group of very friendly Austrian tourists who yelled out directions to our rope-throwing efforts, and after four tries we finally had Stef tied in and climbing.  Once she got up we all posed for a sweet group shot, coiled the rope, and prepped for the rappell down to our waiting lunches.

Before the rappell down though, it seemed my rope-saving-services were required once more, and I had the chance to sketchily lower myself a good fifty feet off-route in order to help another climbing team un-stick their rope from a crack, afterwhich I immediately took an amazing swing clean across the rock, whipping out nearly fourty or fifty feet before catching my footing again.  When we looked at the clock back at base-camp it was already nearly three in the afternoon, so we quickly finished our packing, prepped the cars, and headed out for Vegas.

insert locked-keys story and drive to get my jacket here

The ride to Vegas was a very fun one; not only for the small back-woods highways that we took, but for the excellent conversations that I had with Rebecca.  She had chosen to give the convertable a shot, and so I finally had a partner other than the radio for my long car rides.  We talked about pretty much everything in the world; from sex and relationships and drama, to world-views and politics and general “what makes you happy” questions.  The ride was long, but it honestly passed really quickly, and soon we were in Vegas proper, pulling into Danielle’s apartment complex.

insert story about stupid SUV getting owned here

Dani ran out to meet us in the parking lot, showing us where to park, and then we all headed inside to chill out and deflate from the long ride.  Dani Tommy and I shot the shit for a few hours, with Rebecca mostly just listening and putting in a few pretty funny quips every once in a while.  Tommy made us all some Pierogi for dinner (with me watching and trying to learn), and after we chowed down Dani and I reminisced for a bit while Tommy played some video games and Rebecca passed out on the couch next to us.  I finally got to sleep around midnight-thiry, after making some quick semi-plans to wake up semi-early, and meet with Daniel Stef and Erin around nine or so.

Friday

I woke up around seven or eight when the sun started to peak through the blinds of the livingrooms sliding door.  I had already semi-woken up a few times already, thanks to my random phone alarms, but once the sun was coming through I decided it was high-time for me to actually start moving again.  Dani and Rebecca were already awake (in Rebeccas case still dozing around), so we all schemed about the plans for the day quick, I jumped in the shower, and then called Daniel, setting a plan to meet up at the Red Rocks visitors center around Ten.

Dani and I drove seperately, so that she could head back into town to photograph some Grafitti artists, but we still got to the visitors center just as Daniel, Stef, and Erin were parking.  After some big hugs from Erin we decided on a specific crag to go to, and drove out.  The approach was actually fairly sketchy, requiring a slabby 4th-class scramble up about a hundred feet, and then a rappell into a steep-walled canyon.  The rappell took a bit longer than it really should have, but we were finally able to get all six of us down into the canyon, and ready to climb.  We left the rappell set up as an escape hatch (since we didn’t know any other ways out of the canyon), started a team climbing the rappell route, and Daniel and I racked up and started the main route of the day; a route who’s name we had no idea of, since it wasn’t in the guidebook.

The route was a 5.8 sport, two pitches of solid slopy face climbing.  I let Daniel take the lead on the first pitch, and we got up it relatively quickly; within half an hour Daniel and I were standing at the anchor, trying to decide what to do for the next pitch.  We debated long and hard, and what ended up happening was that Daniel led the second pitch with me belaying while the girls climbed the first pitch on a top-rope that I had trailed up behind me.  Dani had left by this point to head back into Vegas to take pictures of some Graffitti artists, so all three girls were able to climb the first pitch pretty quickly.  Stef ended up seconding Daniels second pitch, and I took the third run in order to clean off the anchor before rappelling down.

Erin, Rebecca and I ended up chilling out for the rest of the day, alternating between exploring the canyon we were in and doing random routes on the rappell station.  Daniel let Stef re-lead the first pitch of our long route, and then the two of them dissappeared for a few hours on us… Normally not a problem, but rather concerning when the sun started to go down and we hadn’t seen them in nearly two hours.  Well, the remaining girls and I started packing out the gear, using the rappell line as a haul-cord to bring gear up to the top, hoping that Daniel and Stef would get back before too late, since the park has a nice $120 fine for any cars left in the park after 7:00.

They did finally get back, and with their help we were able to pack up and get all our gear back into the car by 6:30, and got ourselves back to Dani’s place for First Friday.  First Friday is a huge art show held in downtown Vegas on the first friday of every month, where tons of local artists and dancers and musicians and everything show up, they cordon off three blocks, and everyone hangs out and gets to see all the local “flavor”.  It was honestly impressive to me how… meshed… the crowd was; there was everything from a group of masked carnies (promoting the “ambiguous ball”, a masquerade-style event) to gothy highschoolers, to a dude dressed as the singer from Kiss who was at least 80.

First Friday started a bit rough with some insanity in finding parking, but once we had ditched the cars the night was able to get to its amazingness.  We got some dinner from the food carts (I got a taco and a chili dog), and then just started moseying around.  Daniel Stef and Erin bailed pretty quickly in favor of the steriotypical Vegas fare; gambling and expensive restaraunts, but Dani Rebecca and I kept walking around and checking out the random little galleries around.  By two favorites were one specializing in nude and semi-nude photography, and another that was a tiny house filled with caricatures and other “multi-medium” paintings; works that used lots of differant media.  My favorite was a painting that was a normal scene, with an explosion in the middle.  Instead of just painting the explosion though, the artist actually MADE an explosion, out of paper mache and steel wire, tearing the page apart and bursting out of the canvas.

We ended up heading home semi-early, and spending another hour or so chilling out and looking at some of the pictures from the day; mostly the ones that Dani had taken while she was climbing with us.  Other than the photos, the night after First Friday was pretty tame and relaxing, and I finally got to bed a bit before midnight, even though I had been slowly crashing for nearly an hour at that point.

Look up book “Europe Through the Back Door” , its about first-time backpacking through Europe

Saturday –

My second morning at Dani’s place started pretty much the same way as the first; waking up with the sun slowly peaking through the blinds at the far end of the living room.  Dani was walking around already, and we shared a coffee and started chatting about vagabonding and long trips; I tried to keep focused on her time in Croatia, so I could start getting a feel for traveling in the eastern-European bloc.  We kicked back until around nine thirty (after Erin had already shown up to get her phone and gear from my cars trunk), and then headed into Red Rocks.

We had called Daniel already, and since Stef and him were running a lot later than Rebecca and I, we drove into the main park area, and started hiking and canyoneering around where we hadn’t been able to go the day before.  We both checked out the canyon right near where we had parked, drooling over some of the insane climbs and doing the first few moves of a few of them, and then I headed down into the slot canyon that we had climbed in the day before.  See, we had Rappelled into the canyon on Friday, and hadn’t been able to get through the far end, so I wanted to try and go through the full canyon today.  Rebecca didn’t really want to scramble that much, so she stayed up top and soaked up some rays while I was inside the system below.

Even from where I was, I had to descend about 50ft down a gully to get to the canyon floor.  I ran around for a while, searching around for where we had been before, but I wasn’t able to find the exact spot that I had ended my exploration the day before.  I did find a beautiful view out of the end of one canyon though, and an entire little eco-system on the floor of another canyon; where there was a little stream being fed by an underground spring.  I ended up exploring for nearly an hour before I finally got back to my original drop-point, scrambled out, and Rebecca and I headed to the parking lot where Daniel and Stef were prepping for the days climbing.

We met Daniel and Stef at PUT THE CORRECT NAME HERE AHH, spent a bit of time racking gear, and then hiked in.  Daniel had picked out a huge boulder that had a few dozen sport routes on it; everything from two 5.8s to a few 5.11s and a 5.12, that actually reminded me a lot of Rumney.  It was, of course, completely packed, thanks to it being a Saturday, but we were able to rope up for a few pretty solid climbs.  Daniel led a 5.10a first, followed by Stef leading a semi-runout 5.8.  I actually spent most of the day scrambling around the canyons behind the boulder, and meditating on any cool peak I could find… I don’t really know why, but I was just not excited about climbing today, and since I was sticking with the “do what makes you happy” theme for this trip, I decided not to do any climbing.

I did get roped into belaying a few times though, some of which I enjoyed, and some of which I wanted to scream.  I belayed Rebecca up the 5.10, which was actually a fairly impressive situation; even though she’s not the strongest climber I know, she was able to power through some of the tough moves and get to the top; I’m pretty sure that climb was a new record for her, at least outdoors.  Belaying Stef, however, was far from enjoyable… Daniel had convinced me to belay her up a runout 5.8 while Erin belayed him up a 5.11 arete, and I had agreed for some reason or another… mostly boredom at the time.  I forgot how much Stef freaks out on routes though, and just how… shrilly… she can scream.  I was painfully reminded of both during the 45min that I was belaying her; at one point after about four heart-stopping screams we had literally six random people gving her beta and cheering her on, solely to get her to stop screaming / crying.

But the climb did finally end, though not in the successful manner to which we had been accustomed.  Stef ended up bailing on the second bolt (three bolts, then a 25′ runout), after which one of the random guys, everyone called him “cowboy” asked if he could finish it up, in order to set it as a toprope for some of the members of his party.  I let him borrow my gear, to keep it purely my stuff), and he busted it out in about 10min, bringing my draws back down.

While cowboy was busting the 5.8, I tried out the 5.11 that Daniel had set up; it was amazing.  I wasn’t able to get all the way up before we had to leave, but the 40′ that I did climb were seriously beautiful climbing, full of aretes, amazing sidepulls, and yes… even a heel hook 🙂  The climb wandered pretty cleanly up an overhanging arete, pulling out onto two side-rails and over a bulge before moving onto the left face and up a series of crimpys to the anchors.  Interesting fact; not only were there huge lobster-claws on the chain anchors at the top of every route, but there were about a dozen random bolts strewn across the top of the boulder… no one really knew what they were for, but they couldn’t be anchors, since the rope-drag would have been insane.  My current theory is that they were just an over-excited bolter getting some practice in before bolting an actual route.

We headed back to the car to re-organize gear around 5:30, and left the parking lot by 6:15.  I was hoping to see Dani and Tommy again before flying out, but they had just finished a gig and were getting a quick nap in before starting another gig at midnight, so dinner was just us and Erin.  We stopped in at In-and-out-Burger (a personal goal of mine; I love that place) for dinner before leaving Erin alone in Vegas again and heading to return the cars.  After a long goodbye with Erin we headed out, ditched the car (Vegas has one huge car return, instead of a dozen small ones), and checked into the airport.  Luckily Rebecca and I got there a good twenty minutes earlier than Daniel and Stef, because that meant that I was able to stash my knife in Daniels carry-on when I forgot to put it in mine… really awkward to be pulling metal out of your pockets and accidentally pull a 3″ camping knife out…

Other than the one almost-problem at security, the flight home was pretty nondescript and relaxing.  Rebecca and I sat together, so we started watching Clerks II while waiting to board and finished it on the plane once we were aboard.  The flight was pretty turbulent at first, but we both passed out pretty quickly; her on my shoulder while watching the movie, and then on my back while I was napping on the tray table for the rest of the flight.  Sleeping through it definitely sped the flying process up a lot, and before I knew it we were disembarking the plane and getting our bags.

Daniel decided to get a cab home, since he had a lot of stuff, but I didn’t really want to spend the money on a cab, since last time it was nearly $50.  The girls ended up coming with me (for some reason… Rebecca lives next to Daniel, and Stef… yeah), and we took the Blue to Green, took a few connecting busses thanks to construction, and then I finally took my final bus to Brighton Center.  Dragging my bag was pretty rough, since it did weigh in around 100lbs, but I was finally able to get it home just as the clock was starting to strike 8:00.

The rest of Sunday consisted of a long nap after I got home, lots of unpacking, some attempted Laundry, and a good amount of depressurizing and relaxing.  Dinner was a quick stealth-cheeseburger platter, and that was really the only meal of the day for me; I slept for most of the morning and a good bit of the afternoon, so I wasn’t really hungry.  For food at least… even though my bed was really comfortable I still wasn’t really happy about being home, and I’m already starting to plan out my next long-weekend trip out to Red Rocks to climb one of the long routes in the mountains…

About perfectusvarrus

I am an adventurer. I've been many things in my life; a machinist, a mechanical designer, a training coordinator, a facilities consultant, and a seasonal construction worker. But through it all, I've kept my love of adventure and exploration strong, through rock climbing, backpacking, cycling, exploring, and trying new things. The rush of adventure is intoxicating, and the thrill of discovery and exploring is unbeatable.

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