Tag Archives: California

Joshua Tree, March 2019 – Joshua Tree National Park

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Thursday through Sunday, 21-Mar to 24-Mar-2019

Ohh man, we’re going climbing!!!

It’s been ages since Sarah and I were able to go on a dedicated climbing trip together – with the New Year successfully rung in, vacation days saved up, and strength and health in our limbs, it was time to get back on the plane and get some rock under our feet.  I set up flights, rented a truck, and we set off toward Joshua Tree…

This post will be broken up into three sections: Joshua Tree itself, Climbing, and the superbloom.  We took a lot of pictures, so… trust me.  This is for the best.

 

Thursday:

We went full-power on this trip – I took a half day from work, and we got on the plane on Thursday afternoon.  The plan was to fly into LAX, rent a truck, and then drive to Hidden Valley campground in the middle of Joshua Tree, about three and a half hours away.  We’d sleep in the bed of the truck, and be able to get onto the rock early in the morning.

Of course, we flew into LAX.  Ideally we’d have gotten flights to Oakland or something, but… we were a bit too late for that, and all the seats had been booked.  So getting out of the airport and picking up our rental took a bit longer than planned.  Picking up the truck was an adventure all of its own too – We took a bus to a random parking lot, where we waited for an unmarked white van to pick us up and bring us to the rental agency.  Not… quite standard, but we’d been warned about it, so it wasn’t unexpected.

After we drove through a dimly lit industrial park and picked up our monstrously large vehicle, we needed dinner and groceries.  Groceries were found an Winco, and dinner was devoured in the bed of the truck outside of an In&Out burger.  Good start to the trip, if I may say so.

The trip did run into its first challenge as we drove into the National Park though – There was a big sign saying “All campgrounds full”.  Not quite what we were expecting to see late on a Thursday evening (actually early on Friday morning at that point, but who’s counting?)  Where did we end up sleeping?  In the parking lot of one of the back country trails, of course!

Not ideal, but hey – that was the whole point of having the truck, right?  And I’ll admit, it was definitely a comfortable bed after spending almost 4 hours driving…

 

 

Friday:

I woke up on Friday to see that Sarah was already awake.

In fact, she’d been awake for a while, stressfully keeping watch and waiting for the Rangers to show up and arrest us for sleeping in the parking lot.  Possible just shoot us, and save themselves the worry of arresting the two terrible outlaws.

Thankfully, we were able to stay one step ahead of the law, and didn’t get thrown in the pokey just yet.  The trick, you see, is to get to them before they can get to you.  As soon as I was mobile, we headed back to the entrance to pay our park pass and ask about where to camp.  It went really well – they requested that we pay when leaving, thanks to the long line of cars trying to get into the park.  And for camping, they suggested just going into the back country, and camping out in some of the camping-allowed sections of desert.

Simple and easy.  The ranger even told us where to find her favorite section of wildflowers!

 

By now, it was breakfast time.  So we made us up a rather intense amount of oatmeal, complete with blueberries and sausage, and got ourselves onto the rock.

The specific details of the climbs will be in a future post.  Suffice it to say that it was glorious.  And offwidthy.  Which was less glorious.  But still pretty great.

We climbed, we had lunch, we ate cheetos, and I was even told that my… peculiar… style of eating cheetos was (in a full-on Cali surfer accent) a “power move, brah”.  All because I was eating them with tongs and not by hand.  Eating them by hand gets dust all over my fingers, which is gross even when they’re not covered in climbing chalk.  Come on, people.  It’s just smart to use tongs.

 

Anyways, we climbed, we enjoyed, and then we made dinner in the back of the truck – searing up a few steaks, some asparagus, and some mac and cheese.  Yeah, you read that right.  We eat well on the road.  Gotta get those calories for the climbs!

Then, we packed up our gear and hiked into the desert.

We… probably could have packed a little better, as the pictures show, but you know what?  We were only walking in a mile, so we weren’t particularly concerned with the efficiency of our packs.  It was simple, beautiful, and a gorgeous night.  Instead of cinching our backpacks down, we spent the extra time stargazing and enjoying the Joshua trees in the dark.  They were flowering.

 

We laid out our sleeping pads under the desert moon.  It smelled like flowers and dust.  The air was cold.  It was perfect.

 

 

Saturday:

Our main goal for today was to climb, and then get to the camping area that the Ranger had told us about the morning before.  But first, we had to pack up from our desert nest and walk back to the parking lot – which was honestly a really nice task to start the day with.

The desert was vibrant.  I’ve mentioned “superbloom” before, but the backstory is that Joshua Tree had gotten a LOT of rain over the winter.  Maybe not a lot in comparison to Oregon, but it was enough to get the whole desert growing and flowering – and we could absolutely tell from where we were camping.  The whole area felt alive, and you could smell the new growth in the air.  Packing up and walking out was pleasant, and honestly a very enjoyable experience.

The climbing of the day was amazing, I’ll tell you all about it later, but suffice it to say that we both enjoyed it, and what’s more important: Sarah got her first trad lead in post-injury!  She crushed it!

 

After climbing, we stuffed everything into the truck and headed back out onto the open highway.  Our goal was Turkey Flats, the back country area that the ranger had mentioned to us.

On the way, we found flowers.

We stopped, and I am supremely thankful that we did – we thought we’d just seen a small patch, but instead we found ourselves in a massive riverbed full of wildflowers, right at the golden hour.  Again, I’ll talk more about it in a future post… but understand that this was probably the most beautiful place I’ve been.

 

Dinner was at the parking lot for Turkey Flats – we had chili dogs, and hung out with some college kids from LA who’d decided to come out to stargaze.  They were unbelievably cute in their naive, city-kid ways, and made Sarah and I feel like true dirtbag adventurers.

Then, we walked into the desert again, found a perfect little patch of dirt, laid out our bedrolls, and slept under the stars.

 

 

Sunday:

Sunday was our hiking day, the day for Sarah to track down the best photos of the Superbloom possible.  I’ll post all of the pictures in a future post (and trust me, there were more than a few pictures), but suffice it to say that we found some beauty out in the desert.

First, our campsite.  When we woke up and did a bit of exploring, we found that we’d camped in a perfect location – We were fully surrounded by thousands of tiny little white flowers popping out of the sand.  And, in the distance, there was a sand dune that had been scraped off the top of the mountains by a glacier in eons past…

So clearly our first order of business was to hike deeper into the desert and see the dune!

 

The sand dune itself wasn’t quite what you’re probably imagining – instead of a Sahara-Desert style thing, it was just a big long mound of sand with plants all over it.  Honestly, it was a bit hard to see, but looking close we could definitely notice the change in terrain as we explored farther inbound.

From there, we headed back to the truck, and then back again to the place we’d explored the previous day.  It definitely looked quite different in the morning light, but still – endless fields of wildflowers.  You can’t say no to that.

Then, Cholla patch.  Ocatillo gardens, and the Cottonwood ranger station.

The ranger station was the biggest event, to be honest, though the Cholla and Ocatillo were pretty cool too.  I mean, who doesn’t love spiky doom balls with spines that can pierce right through my heavy hiking boots?  Ohh, that’d be me.  It was impressive.  But hey – after a while with the tweezers I was able to pull the spines out, so… that’d good, right?

Anyways, Cottonwood.

 

We needed a nice and shaded place to repack the truck, get ourselves ready to fly, and divest ourselves of all the extra food and water that we’d brought with us.  Turns out, we packed WAY too much extra food and water… but you know what?  I absolutely prefer that option versus the alternative.  Next time, we’ll know how much to bring.  And this time, we were able to help out a push-start VW minibus full of hippies.

Yep, you read that right.  A VW minibus that had to be pushed to start.

Full of every archtype of hippie you could imagine.  It was awesome, watching them pile out of the van and guessing who we’d see next, or what type of tie-dye they’d have on.

 

After hooking the hippies up with some water and cheetos, we headed back to LA through the brutal traffic.  It honestly went pretty well, all things considered.  We made it back in time, hopped on a plane, and careened our way back to the wet Northwest, away from the beautiful desert rocks.

Skiing Squaw Valley, and my newest injury

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Skiing Squaw Valley, and my newest injury

Saturday, 25-Feb-2017

 

I went skiing in California!

Sarah and I had started skiing earlier this year, and I’ll be honest – I’d gotten pretty good, and was really starting to enjoy myself. Combine that with my friend Mike telling me all about how great skiing in California is, and that I hadn’t seen Mike for a while… well, I bought tickets and flew out. Rented get in Hood River, of course, which just added to the fun of flying. Yay huge bags!

I actually flew into Sac on Friday night, after a day of climbing with Sarah at the gym… I felt bad about running off, but she’d mentioned a desire to stay in Portland and see some friends of hers, so I figured that this would be a good excuse for us to have some individual adventures, and then catch back up the following week.

 

So I flew into Sac. Stayed at Mike’s place Friday night, and then drove out to Squaw Valley the next morning.

It was a drive. Mike and I hadn’t caught up in a while, and this drive definitely gave us time to catch up. What was normally a 2.5hour drive quickly turned into a 5 hour one, what with having to pull over to put on chains, be told that we couldn’t put chains on where we were (we were <5ft past one sign, but 10ft in front of another…), turn around, sit in more traffic, put on chains, then sit in more traffic, then get caught in some more traffic.

 

Then, after the traffic, we found out that the parking lot was full. So Mike, being amazing, dropped me off out front, and then went to get lunch while I got a few runs in.

By the time he got back, I’d done maybe half a dozen runs throughout the easy area, and was starting to feel pretty okay about Squaw. It was steep, and carved out, but definitely fun… and I was really looking forward to learning some tips and tricks from the ski extraordinaire hanging out with me.

Once Mike got a parking spot, we hit up the far side of the mountain, a lift run called Shirley. And that’s where I should have turned tail and run… it was all blues, but much steeper and more carved out than I was used to. In fact, the runs were mostly moguls… not something I’d ever dealt with before. But I gave it a shot, and our first run went pretty well.

 

Our second run didn’t.

 

I did the first half of the run well, and stopped for a quick breather about 70% the way down the run… before starting into that mogul field again. But this time, I didn’t hit them right. This time, I caught a ski, and went down.

My knee went another way. I screamed.

By the time I got down to Mike, shock was setting in. I couldn’t press down with my heel, and I was confident that I couldn’t ski out.

We asked a lift operator for a hand, and he quickly proved his incompetance by suggesting that I ski out… even going so far as to say that I needed to wait in line, and then ski down a green to get back to the lodge. Honestly, I’m like 90% certain that he was stoned… which I wouldn’t normally mind, but… you know… shock. Pain. Injured skier asking for help. Screw that guy.

 

So I walked away, and asked the next lift operator if he could help.

“Ohh god! Yeah man, get on this next chair, I’ll hold some folks back for you. What’s your name? I’ll call up, and ski patrol will be waiting for you”. THAT is how you react to someone saying that they’re in shock, and unable to ski out.

One snowmobile ride later I can’t put any weight on the knee at all, and I’m on a tram down to the urgent care area. Then two hours of waiting (1.5 hours of that in the outside waiting room), and then meeting a nurse for x-rays, and a doctor for a diagnosis.

 

Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament.

 

The four words that every skiier, soccer player, footballer, or really any athlete fears. I was told that I was now a member of that club, and that I should go see an orthopedist for an MRI within two weeks. That I wouldn’t be able to walk for a month, and that recovery could take anywhere from six months to a year.

The rest of the night was blurred. I called loved ones, then ate a huge plate of nachos. Mike helped me carry my gear into the motel room, and I settled myself into the bed, trying to learn how to hold myself to keep the knee elevated, but not painful.

I guess I’ve got time to learn, though… we’ll see how recovery goes.

Backpacking over Labor Day, in Northern California: Sunday and Monday

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Backpacking over Labor Day, in Northern California: Sunday and Monday

It’s been a while since I’ve actually packed up my pack and gone on a solid backpacking trip. I think the last time was back in 2013, maybe? And even then, it was a solo excursion – no group shenanigans for me. Just a man in the wild, alone with nothing but his wits and a ton of random gear to keep him safe.

So going backpacking with a group of five was definitely a new experience for me, especially since we’d be exploring the mountains of the West Coast…

Sunday, 06-September-2015

before heading to bed the night before, there’d been a debate between everyone about what time to get up in the morning.  The final decision, amazingly, had been, “Meh… whenever.  Let’s not set alarms”

So we slept in!  We slept all the way ’till like 9:30 or something!  it was super decadent, completely amazing.

And then when we opened up the tent flaps and looked out?  When we surveyed the domain of our campsite?  A perfect vista… literally the best view of mountains that I’ve ever seen, this amazing view over a beautiful alpine lake.

Breakfast was relaxed, but thankfully a certain Sarah brought along a really nice Aeropress, so we had some coffee along with the oatmeal.  And then… we just relaxed.  Didn’t really do anything for most of the morning; just threw some stones into the lake, played a quick game that could sort of resemble curling, if you didn’t know what curling was (basically we threw a big stone, and then tried to get close?  So sort of Bocce ball?).

Then we threw some more stones into the lake, and then had lunch.

After lunch, boredom ensued, so a quick mention of “That far peak looks like a cool place… let’s go hike up to it!” leads to scrambling, route-finding, and finally attaining a perfect ridgeline. More lunch is had, and then Sharia and Josh head down while Sarah, Dave and I press onward toward the mini-summit.

Which is beautiful! A ridgeline traverse leads to a steep section, and some nice semi-technical climbing (by the way I go, at least). Then we chill at the top to enjoy the views.

Heading down is a bit more technical; Sarah & Dave’s route-finding skills come in quite handy a few times, since there’s no real obvious trail, and there’re a ton of small cliffs that kept blocking our path.

But once we got back down to came we went right back to relaxing some more, then drank some more beer and ate some dinner.  Sarah even showed us all up by taking a swim in the lake… which was impressive, and made me a little concerned for her sanity if we’re being honest.

Two notes:

  • Yes, I said drank beer.  On a backpacking trip.  See… Dave had bought this system that comes with concentrated beer, which you re-hydrate and carbonate, and then can drink as if it were normal beer.  I tried to mix it up twice, and… well, I’m not allowed to mix the beer anymore :/
  • Dinner was mountain house meals.  If you haven’t had them… a quote that came up was that Mountain Houses are designed for “when you need some dynamite to blow up the brick shit house you’ve built in your colon”.  They’re tasty, but… yeah.  Definitely camping food in the best of times.
    Mine?  Well, it looked different, so everyone asked about it.  It’s a “pro pack” that I got in college, and had left over since then.  They asked when it expired.  I said never.  They asked me to check.  I found out that it had expired in 2013.
    I still ate it.
    I only slightly regretted that decision later.

Then, it got really cold really quick.  So we spent some more time stargazing, and headed to sleep sleep early again.

Monday, 07-September-2015

Up EARLY. Like… we’re walking by 7:15, and at the bottom of the boulder field a little after 8:00. The boulder field isn’t easy, by the way, and takes some more mad route-finding skillz, yo.  Dawg.

(Ed note: they weren’t Ben’s route finding skills.  Sarah and Dave led the way again, to great success)

As we walked out, I got hit by how tired and unused to backpacking I actually was.  I mean… I’m in good shape, but I was getting pretty worn out really quickly.  We pressed on and made it to the cars without any incident, of course, but still.  It was something of note, that I decided to keep working on during the week.

One possible reason that came up though, was the elevation that we were at.

  • The trailhead was at 6,400 ft above sea.
  • The campsite at Big Blue Lake was at 6,900 ft
  • The final peak that we hit was at ~7,500 ft

Those elevations don’t really exist in New England… so I’m taking solace in the fact that I was getting tired too quickly because of the elevation.  Not because I hadn’t been backpacking a year or so.  Totally not that.

Anyways.

We got back to the car, right?  Then we drove!  We grabbed some burgers in Yreka, explored town for a bit, and kept moving along.

Ashland was a “take a break from driving” stop; we grabbed some of the fancy sulfery water and ate ice cream! Took a walk through the park (played on a small climbing wall, listened to a guy rocking it on the Cello), then hit an amazing coffee shop, which is above a book store, and has an amazing back garden… basically an oasis of amazingness in the bone-dry Western Oregon.

The rest of the drive back up to Portland was pretty standard…