Speaking of Cameras…

30 06 2008

Due to the recent accidental dropping of my trusty Olympus Stylus 800, I may be in the market for a new, small digital camera to bring climbing (because we don’t always want to bring Luke’s larger DSLR to the crag and definitely not on multi-pitches). I’m looking for something not too expensive with a reasonable amount of optical zoom that’s small and not too fragile (so it can survive a little abuse in my pack or on my harness, although within a case). Good battery life and features would be a plus (i.e. modes for shooting sunsets or through glass). Any suggestions?





Needles Trip Report

30 06 2008

I’m just now starting to recover from the exhaustion of our recent weekend at the Needles, which was fun and challenging at times.

We started our trip Wednesday night, picking up Gordon at LAX around 9pm and heading straight towards the Needles. We stopped in Bakersfield for gas, somehow avoiding the terrible air quality that the fires up north have caused there (the smoke gets blown towards and trapped around Bakersfield). After a little bit of hallucinating on the Great Divide Highway (seeing deer or other small animals…), we finally reached the campground some time after 1:30am.

Needless to say, we were tired. So we took a more relaxing morning on Thursday, not worrying too much about sprinting out to the crag. After organizing and divying out gear, we headed out the 2.5 miles of hiker trail to the fire lookout.

At the fire lookout
We stopped on the climbers’ trail between the Magician and the Charlatan to warm up on Poof, a 3-pitch 5.7 on the east face of the Magician.

Gordon follows the 2nd pitch of Poof

Luke and Gordon shared the leads, with fun moves and manageable, but still exciting, runouts. There were also tons of tiny reddish orange mites that we got squished all over our hands and feet.

West Face of the Sorcerer and Charlatan from the Magician. The air is hazy because of the fires.

After eating a late lunch, we headed up the fire tower stairs to chat with Margee for a while. Afterwards, we re-hiked the climbers’ trail to our packs and continued to the notch between the Witch and the Charlatan, where we re-racked for an afternoon/evening ascent of the classic Airy Interlude (5.10a, 3 pitches). I got the first lead of a long (Luke and Gordon had to start climbing so I could reach the belay ledge and we were using 60’s) 5.9 pitch that was marred by some intimidating moves above questionable gear and long-ish runouts near the top. This really tired me out, so I asked Luke to lead the crux “Airy Interlude” pitch, which was pumpy, wild, and fun. I definitely want to go back (skipping the first pitch via a 3rd class scramble) so I can lead it. I did lead the final pitch (5.9), which Luke and I had climbed before via Igor Unchained. It was fun, with interesting moves and nice fingerjams, much more fun and less stressful than the first pitch.

After successfully rappelling to the ground after sunset, we headed back to the campground (with the car keys, this time), arriving around 10:30pm to cook dinner – another late night.

Gordon leading the 3rd pitch of Poof

The next morning had another slightly late-ish start because of our late return on Thursday. However, armed with only our refilled camelbaks and more food (we stashed our packs at the Witch-Charlatan notch), the hike went much faster. Our plan was to climb Thin Ice, a classic 5.10b (3 pitches) on the Sorcerer, Fancy Free (5.10a, 3 pitches, on the Charlatan), and Spooky (another classic, 2 pitch 5.9 on the Charlatan).

Luke and I at a belay on Poof

Another party was just starting on Fancy Free, so we decided to start with Thin Ice. Luke headed up the tricky layback, rested on the ledge, and pulled through the powerful 10b crux sequence for jugs that lead to the anchor. As Gordon and I followed the pitch, my camera somehow unclipped from Gordon’s harness and fell at least 40 feet to the ledge we’d started on. (R.I.P. camera… although it wasn’t totally obliterated, the lens cap mechanism is broken and the compartment that holds the memory card was damaged). Oh well. I’ve always thought that one should never be really attached to anything that you clip to your harness, so I didn’t let it stress me out.

Leading the 1st pitch (5.9) of Airy Interlude.

Gordon hasn’t done quite as much crack and trad climbing as Luke and I have, so he found the steep cracks a little challenging, but still managed to make it up the pitch with only one fall. The second pitch started up an intimidating-looking flare. Luke thrutched his way up the flare before it yielded to easier moves. I had a size advantage on the pitch since my narrow shoulders allowed me to reach both hands and both feet into the finger and thin hand jams in the crack in the back of the flare, while Gordon’s wider shoulders meant he had to use the insecure layback instead of the flare. The last pitch headed up some easier, though still awkward, corners to the top of the Sorcerer, where we relaxed for yet another late lunch. By the time we got to our packs, it was already past 5pm and we were pretty tired from the route, so we decided to call it a day early and get back to camp before dark.

Luke leading the 1st pitch (10b) of Thin Ice

We decided to try something a little easier for our last day so Gordon could lead more pitches, so we selected Magic Dragon, a 9ish pitch 5.8 that heads up the long southwest face of the Magician. Having re-stashed out packs in the saddle before the fire lookout, we had even less far to hike, which was nice. We managed to make our way to the base of the route without too much trouble. Luke lead up the first 2 pitches, which had a ton of loose rock on the belay ledges. He also nearly pulled off a torso-sized block at the top of the second pitch. Worrying that it would become dislodged on Gordon or I, he decided to trundle it (there were no parties below us). Although Gordon and I were out of the fall line of the block, I still got hit on the nose by a high-velocity ricochet fragment, which lead to a little cut and some bruising, but thankfully no broken nose. Gordon lead the next pitch to the base of a 5.4 slab. Although I had planned on leading this, I was getting a headache from my rockfall collision, so I asked Luke to lead it instead. With a little confusion about belay placements, we made our way onto the easy slabs on the upper part of the Magician and one final, fun pitch right up onto the fire lookout (to the surprise and pleasure of the tourists up there at the time). We stopped there to have lunch at 4pm (late again) before heading back to the campground for a final time.

Since we had some extra time (back at the campground by 5:30pm), we decided to take advantage of our location in Sequoia Nat’l Forest to go see some giant sequoias. We drove down the highway a bit to the “Walk of 100 Giants”, where we saw a ton of HUGE trees.

Luke in front of a huge Sequoia
All of us inside one of the trees!
A final early morning on Sunday got us on the road back to LAX, with a few stops on the way, including a trip to In-N-Out to complete Gordon’s California experience. It was a great trip!




More Fires in California

25 06 2008

The big news right now are all the fires up in northern and central California, many of which I believe were ignited by lightning strikes. Best of luck to the firefighters up there right now.

On our way back from our trip on Monday, we saw some evidence of fire down further south. This was the view from a gas station in Temecula (north of San Diego on the 15):


Pretty crazy, right? Apparently this was smoke from a small brush fire caused by hot parts from a wheel assembly [coming] off and ignit[ing] the brush” on the 805 near La Jolla. It sounds like it was pretty small and was almost immediately contained, but still made plenty of smoke that we could see from pretty far north.

At least LA managed to make it through several days of 100+ weather without anything major burning… let’s hope that luck lasts the rest of the summer.





Getting Psyched on Nevada Limestone

25 06 2008

With temperatures blazing in the 100s in the SoCal area last weekend, we headed out to Mt. Charleston, just north of Las Vegas, to beat the heat. Mt. Charleston rises above the glitz and garbage of the strip to over 10,000ft elevation – a tree-shaded, snow-covered (for part of the year) alpine oasis amid the southern Nevada desert.

This was our first extended experience sport climbing on limestone and we had some struggles with the many challenges presented by the rock – finding where the holds were, trusting the rock (especially when broken holds had not proven it particularly trustworthy), and (in some cases) dealing with the mental crux of distantly-spaced bolts.

By far the highlights of the trip for me were the campground we stayed at on Sunday night (Hilltop campground – absolutely beautiful) and the route I projected on Sunday, Los Banditos, 5.11c.


The campground was at fairly high elevation and our campsite was shaded by tons of somewhat stubby, twisted alpine trees – you could tell that they were covered in snow for part of the year. The views down into the desert, the sunset, and the sunrise were amazing. Quite a far cry from some of my less enjoyable campground experiences (Camp 4, I’m thinking of you here).


And then the rock climbing. On Saturday afternoon, after a morning at the Imagination Wall, we headed to Robbers Roost for a few more routes. After re-warming up, Luke onsighted Los Banditos (11c) and I headed up on toprope, climbing it clean first try and only feeling pumped after I’d been lowered to the ground, which was pretty sweet. The climb had a variety of fun moves over slightly overhanging rock that still allowed me to get several no-hands rests and a lot of balancey moves. This was a pleasant surprise since I worried from the ground about the route being a pure grunt-fest.

It was so much fun that I decided to go for the lead when we returned on Monday morning. At first I struggled with the crux clip, but on my second try, I overcame my fear and figured out a key heel hook to make the clip more doable, although I got stuck on the moves right afterwards and made it to the top after hanging once. I don’t know what it was (maybe the altitude), but before my second try, I was feeling pretty exhausted. But after laying in the sun for a couple minutes and feeling the adrenaline of the second lead, I wanted a third go.


I made the crux clip without much trouble, although with a different (but better) sequence and launched into the last moves on bad holds before the series of jugs that led to the anchor (these are the most amazing jugs I’ve ever experienced outside – huge and wonderful). But my tiredness kicked in and I slipped from the last bad crimp below the jug – so close! I was a little disappointed, but also proud of myself because I had fully committed to the sequence and was pushing hard for the jug, above my last bolt, and took a small whipper when I fell. For a girl who has a tendency to downclimb instead of committing, this, I felt, was progress. Even as my hands shook, I was totally committed to the route, not thinking of falling or downclimbing once.

Also, this was the first sport climb of the grade that I’ve attempted. I’ve lead several 11a’s and an 11b, but I’d never really felt confident enough to step up the grades, which is really something I need to start doing to progress in my climbing. It was great to feel motivated and excited enough to push my limits and bring some of the motivation of my Indian Creek crack climbing (where I attempted to lead my first 4 5.12s) into sport climbing. I’m hoping this will be a good sign as I start to push my limits harder and make some improvements.

In other news, tonight we’re picking up Gordon, one of Luke’s friends visiting us for a couple days, and heading out to the Needles! For the first time this season! I’m super excited and can’t wait to get on the sharp end on some of that beautiful granite.

Best,

Lizzy





Alpine Retreat – Clipping Bolts at Mt Charleston

25 06 2008

I needed to get out, I just wanted to leave, go somewhere, change the flow of things. But I am not a spontaneous person, I like to make plans and follow them. This balance always strikes me and I don’t know what to do, which furthers my problem. I like doing things, keeping busy and chugging forward. I enjoy keeping my schedule full so that when I do have some free time I enjoy it and truly relax.

Friday came around and plans for the weekend were far from settled. Lizzy had been spending time in her Air Conditioned room away from 100+ degree heat while I had been plugging along at work. Even climbing in the shade we would be met with 90+ degree weather and would likely melt before sending anything. Our drastic times called for drastic measures and I came up with a plethora of plans. This can easily become a problem as Lizzy and I try to sort between the nuisances of each possible climbing location. The common theme was high elevation and camping. We would need to spend the whole weekend out of LA and somewhere cool. Fearing the hoards and with a slight dislike of the granite of Big Bear we decided on Mt Charleston.

Gas these days I at a premium and adds new words to the American vocabulary like “Stay-cation” but honestly who the hell wants to do that. I want to explore the world, I want to journey to new places and I want to get out of here. NOW! Adjusting to meet the best temperatures I worked on Saturday and we left for Vegas on Saturday night. The five and half hour drive was traffic free but required constant AC as we made our way into the Vegas heat. After passing by the strip we headed north on the 95 out into the unknown. A small turn off and a sign for Mt Charleston signaled our rise to elevation and a retreat into cooler temperatures. Reservations were suggested but required three days of advanced notice for the Kyle Canyon Campgrounds.

With the two main campgrounds full we headed to the Mary Jane Area. This multiple abuse site, once home to a historical ski tow, was a gravel parking lot near the Mary Jane trailhead. All of the “spots” on the periphery were taken so we parked near the center and set up our tent. Bugs instantly flocked to our headlamps but the temperatures had dropped and we were quickly asleep. With the sun rising around 5am, I was excited and anxious to go climbing. Getting up to go to the bathroom at first light I had seen towering limestone walls and had a hard time going back to sleep.Unable to wait any longer, I roused Lizzy and we packed up and had breakfast by 6:30. After a bit of confused driving, undoubtedly caused by our mere 6 hours of sleep, we wound up hiking up the trail next to the ski tow. Our trail led us to the base of the north facing Imagination Wall, 500 feet of glorious limestone. At the base of our warm-up the rock was intimidating and devoid of familiar features. Sharp crimps and runnels dotted the face and without chalk the sequence was far from obvious. The base of the Imagination wall is slabby and the rock offers excellent friction, the climbing requires subtle body movement and a keen eye for “holds”. After warming up I jumped on a 10d that might make a good lead for Lizzy. This however was far from the truth. After breaking a foothold, stick clipping the second bolt and shakely climbing to the 3rd bolt at 40 feet I decided to bail. The next bolt was 15 feet higher and I was not yet confident on this type of climbing. I had fallen prey to the Exacto Blade (the route’s name) and did not have the mental energy to complete this route that was undoubtedly bolted on lead.


Confidence shattered, we moved down the cliff to try a few of the other “moderate routes”. After bailing on three different variations of this 11a, I found passage on one of the harder neighboring routes. While not a clean lead I was finally able to make it to the top. The ending of this 11b had what I wanted, wonderful pinches and crimps, tricky footwork and tension moves, most importantly real HOLDS! Finally getting to climb after my flailathon Lizzy mad quick work of this balancey climb.

After one more fun 11b, evidently the good grade to climb at this wall, and a bit of heinous top roping we departed for Robbers Roost. The weather had been ideal and the wall was completely in the shade causing Lizzy to don all of our jackets. Even though we were a bit tired I convinced Lizzy that more climbing was in order and with the promise of a five minute approach we were on our way. The scene at Robbers Roost was the opposite of the solitude of the Imagination Wall. There were tourists and climbers sandwiched in the cave like venue. The walls were covered with fixed draws and chalk and most of the climbs were overhanging.

With some friendly advice from one of the locals we warmed up again and we did a few more climbs. While these routes had tricky cruxes they had nice holds and jugs and one even had a sit down rest. Excited by a more athletic style we decided to return the next day so Lizzy and I could work on some harder routes. Hilltop, the third campground in the area, was close by and we still needed a place to sleep. With showers and a toilet this was a big step up from the Mary Jane Area. Hiltop hade excellent views and is about 1000 feet higher than Kyle and Fletcher campgrounds. Since it was Sunday night we had no problem finding an excellent site in the shade. If you are ever there I suggest site number #21 despite not having a view it was fairly wind protected and had evening shade.

Monday we returned to the Roost and climb the namesake route (photo below). This climb, another lead bolted scare fest, was technical with bad falls on sharp rock. The movement and hold variety was classic limestone and excellent if you could move past a fear of falling. This climb had deep runnels and great pinches. I found the crux to be a tricky bit of stemming after a good rest about midway through the route. While this did not function as a good mental warm-up it got the blood moving and allowed me to focus on harder routes. First up was an onsight attempt on a route that had been occupied the previous day. After a bunch of tricky climbing I gave up a foot below a hidden jug. Lack of commitment and a bit of memory loss left me hanging but with no regrets as I made my way to the top I encountered a much more beta intensive crux that would have blown the onsight. Next go, much more relaxed, I sent Bubbleicous.


Lizzy was in the projecting mood and jumped on Los Banditos, an 11c that she had done clean first try on TR the day before. This would be her first of the grade and over the day she made excellent progress. Between my attempts on different routes she gave this route three good burns and on her final try fell one hold below jug at the end of the crux. She made good progress with each try and feeling fresh on our next visit I think this climb is within her reach.

I attempted some of the classic harder routes in the area but was stopped by tricky beta, fatigue and altitude. Leaving tired we made the journey back to San Diego happily avoiding Vegas rush hour. Despite a lack of hard sends I feel the weekend was quite satisfying and have a new respect for the complexity of limestone. I am excited to go back, since according to the locals you can climb there all summer.

– Luke





The Awesomeness of Yoga

18 06 2008

There are a lot of difficulties associated with being a Caltech student. The main one is an utter lack of free time during the academic year because there is just so much work to do. However, Caltech student-dom is not without its perks. For example, we get free membership to the gym and can go to as many of the aerobics and yoga classes as we want. Now that I’m free from the burden of having to constantly be doing homework, I finally have time to start going to yoga classes again, so I started this afternoon. At the REI used gear sale this past weekend, I nabbed a nice (originally $50), practically unused yoga mat for about $16 and was excited to start using it right away. REI also tells me that my new yoga mat is made from environmentally friendly rubber – how sweet! Take a look:I could feel the decrease in flexibility and strength since the last time I’d taken a yoga class (its been way too long), but stretching and relaxing felt amazing and my yoga mat has a cool, colorful pattern on it that’s nice for staring at while breathing from downward dog.

I’m hoping that getting back into yoga will help me with the rest of my climbing training. I have found in the past that strengthening and stretching all your muscles, even those not directly related to climbing, can help one move more confidently and fluidly, which I think is an important thing to balance out all that power gained from bouldering in the climbing gym.

Namasthe,

Lizzy





Public Transportation Adventures, Part 2

17 06 2008

Gas is getting really expensive. I had my first >$60 fillup the other day. So it seemed like a good time to save some gas and ride the trains back from San Diego again.

The more I try to understand the Metrolink trains, the more confused and frustrated I get. As you may recall from my previous post on this subject, I thought I just needed to get on an earlier coaster to make an earlier Metrolink train. But, as I discovered last night as I was figuring out how early we needed to get up this morning, the latest Metrolink train from Oceanside that goes all the way to LA Union Station leaves at 6:41am. The first Coaster doesn’t get to Oceanside until 7:33am. This is kind of a problem… so much for taking the trains in the morning. It turns out there is only one train after noon that goes all the way from Oceanside to LA. One.

As I discovered this strange phenomenon of utter disharmony between the San Diego (e.g. Coaster) and Metrolink train systems, I figured there MUST be some way that you can easily ride trains from San Diego to LA. I figured that maybe I just needed to catch a different train from an intermediate location (because more trains do leave Oceanside, they just don’t reach LA). The trains leaving from Oceanside are all on the “Orange County Line” route. Most of them reach an intermediate station in Orange. This station is also on the “91 Line“, which runs from San Bernardino (which is out east, for LA neophytes) to Union Station. Theoretically, one could catch one train to Orange and another to LA from the Orange Station. But the latest train one can take from Oceanside is the same 6:41am train that goes directly to Union Station. The same train that is too early to catch with a Coaster.

Ok, I could understand why maybe trains operated by different systems might not run in perfect harmony (e.g. Coaster and Metrolink trains). But even different Metrolink lines clash with each other. Here’s a good example: Train 850 leaves Oceanside at 7:30am and arrives in Orange at 8:32am. Train 685 starts in Orange and heads for Union Station. Logic might have these trains leave and arrive at times so one could make the connection. But instead, Train 685 leaves Orange 10 minutes before Train 850 arrives. So if you were unlucky enough to get on Train 850 to Orange, you’d be stuck there until 4:38PM waiting for the next train to Union Station.

It just seems a little ridiculous to have a train system and not have it scheduled such that it’s easy to use and transfer to different locations. It seems that in the future, I may just have to bite the bullet and buy Amtrak tickets. If I think I will be going back-and-forth enough, I can buy a 10-ride ticket for $150, which is a $7 discount per ride, with a $70 total savings. The only problem being that it’s only valid for 45 days.

I can only hope that as (if) more people start to use public transportation as fuel prices are rising, they’ll take another look at their infrastructure and improve a few things.

However, to avoid being totally negative, the LA Metro system, which includes 4 light rail lines and all the buses, is pretty good. The light rail lines run pretty often (often enough that I don’t need to worry about the schedule) and serve a lot of the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad everything couldn’t be this easy.

Best,

Lizzy