ClimbFind and Weekend Updates

31 07 2009

Back in June Sara over at put Lizzy and I in touch with Jon and Kevin at ClimbFind.We were able to entertain them during one of their road trip stops at Smith Rock.

Climb Find is going live TODAY with a new feature of their site, a Climbing Feed, that will bring climbs a new way to connect with people and display local news/updates. So the next time you need a climbing partner go to their site and put in a request!

Lizzy and I have been a bit low key the last few weekends but have been working on some longer post examining our past climbing histories. Since we both started climbing before we met it is interesting to see how our partnership has helped us develope new skills.

Hope everyone has a good weekend! If you haven’t seen this video from Sonnie Trotter you should check it out. Sick crack climbing!!

 – Luke


Discovering Alpinism, Dark Star Car to Car

15 07 2009

I thought I knew what alpine climbing was about. I thought that Dark Star would be a walk in the park surrounded by hours of hiking.  Boy was I wrong!!

The description for Dark Star includes around 17 pitches with a bunch of 4th class and only two pitches of 5.10.  While the base of Temple Crag sits just above 11,000 feet I was confident that we could make good time by simuling much of the climb and soloing the easiest pitches.  The goal was a sub 24 hour which was a pace our friends had done the year before.

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Rushing to Big Pine to get as much sleep as possible.

After a five pm departure from San Diego we made fairly good time and were at the trail head in big pine by 10:30.  We set our alarms for a mind blowing 2:15 am and went to sleep as fast as possible. After 3+ restless hours we awoke filled with psyche and were met with a practically full moon. Konstantin had been to Temple Crag before and lead the way as we hit the trail at 2:50am. The next 6 or so miles passed fairly easily as we gained a few thousand feet of elevation towards a set of three alpine lakes.

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The blurriness of this picture shows what it feels like to get up at 2:15 am

We crossed the river on a crappy log bridge just below Third lake and hopped across the talus field towards the base of the very imposing Dark Star. It was getting light out and I was happy with our timing thus far.  However I forgot to fill a water bottle at the stream crossing which stung us later on.

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~5:30 am below the massive Dark Star

After a bit more hiking and a scree approach we dropped our packs and went in search of the spring that usually runs all the way down to the base of Dark Star. With no sign of flowing water we mixed snow in with the water in our nalgenes and set off with two liters of slush and a half liter of Gatorade. Looking up at the first pitch I noticed the obvious difference in the granite from the weekend before. As I had read the rock was much more featured and was filled with bands of Quartz. I felt the crux of the entire route was about midway up the first pitch.  Some tricky stemming and use of poor face holds gave way to a good fingerlock and then better foot holds.  Following with the full pack was a bit tricky and was a harsh warmup.

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Looking up from the base at the first pitch dihedral

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Konstantin right before the hardest moves on the whole route (pitch 1)

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A successful onsight for Konstantin of the first two pitches!

Konstantin lead the first two pitches and then I lead the next three. The third pitch was my favorite of the route with exciting step across to a hollow flaked followed by cool moves up to a lazer cut thin fingers crack in a left facing corner. The rock was perfect and the crack was just thin enough to make it exciting.  The end of my three pitch block put us at a chockstone belay inside the “intimidating” chimney.

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Luke trying to keep the sun off his neck with his  new Buff

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Second (closer) and first lakes. Such pretty water!

It seemed that the best thing to do was tunnel through the chimney and Konstantin made his way up and after no gear for the first 15 feet he placed a cam and stepped out around the corner into the light.  He made it a long pitch and ended on a very comfy belay in the sun. After exiting the cold chimney it seemed we may have been a bit off route but we continued on very easy ground up the ridge. After reaching the belay and snapping a few photos Konstantin set off again and we simuled a long block to the top of the first tower over fairly easy ground.

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Sun is shining life is good!

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Konstantin searches for pro as he exits the chimney.

After a downclimbing and making an exposed traverse we were at a set of ledges below the next tower. We couldn’t quite figure out what the topo mean for the first pitch on the upper tower and nothing seemed obvious. There was a bit of a trail further across a ledge so Konstantin and I moved the belay and set off into the unknown. Konstantin followed some chalk up the next loose pitch doing an excellent job by not dropping any rocks on my head. It was a long lead and I was happy to rest since I had not had enough sleep the night before.

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The cave monster escapes!

I lead another loose pitch to reach the ridge which hopefully got us back on route. The altitude had not been too bad thus far as we approached 12,000 feet and I had been able to eat enough food only feeling like I wanted to vomit once. Back on the ridge we simulated until the ropedrag became really bad. In retrospect we should have either been soloing or have tied back in at the halfway point to simul on 30 meters of rope.  I lead another block of simuling along the ridge that ended in a rap anchor.  We tried to line up this with the topo and guessed we were near “pitch” 14 meaning we would be rappelling again shortly, however the next bit of climbing convinced us otherwise.

The weather for the day had been amazing so far and I could see my arms burning in the sun since I had been expecting to be wearing more than my T-Shirt. I tried best to keep my Buff up over my neck and ears to keep off the sun. There was practically no wind and few clouds and we had only seen one other party at Temple.

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Celebrating the perfect day and the six amazing pitches so far!

I was getting worn down by my belief that we were lost and it was eating into my psyche. The climbing was not hard but it was just challenging to have no idea where to go. I suppose my lack of alpine experience made it seem that the obvious route (the easiest line) was not the right way. I am far more comfortable when there is only one “possible” line.

After rappelling Konstantin started off around the next tower on the right side on a set of 3rd class ledges. The climbing became 4th class and we simuled a little until having to stop again due to bad rope drag. This belay was on top of a very pretty tower and a jagged line of spires were between us and a large red tower shown in the topo.

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Riding the spire! How could it be so warm above 11,000 feet?!?

Konstantin lead off again on easy terrain only to find a rap station about 150 feet later. I thought this meant we were back on track and told him to stop. After find the belay and the kind of odd rap station I was not so sure so I kept going and downclimbed about 50 feet (5th class for sure) and did a bit of traversing to reach a better looking rap station.

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The Big Red Tower from the topo can be seen in the back left of this photo.

This rap put is in a gully that I believe is described in the Croft topo. We opted for the easy and obvious 3rd class way on the left side of the next tower. This took us past a bit of snow which we happily ate to stay hydrated.  16 pitches completed the next belay put us back on track with a very obvious rightward ledge traverse following yellow lichen. This was at the base of the large red tower and concluded the technical section of the climb. I was mentally exhausted and wanted to be moving as fast as possible. I was worried about time it would take to  climb the remaining 500 feet to the summit. Konstantin kept good spirits and helped me calm down and stay safe.

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Konstantin makes his way across a ridge of chossy spires.

Turning the corner we saw a large section of ledgy terrain that I insisted we solo. I wanted to be moving faster and was confident that we would save time (speed = safety in alpine climbing) by moving at the same time. At above 12,00 feet there was no way I could move too quickly but putting away the rope sped us up and we were in the top in no time. The temps quickly shifted as we entered the shade and the wind picked up. We both happily donned our jackets for the first time since the chimney belay.

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5 Hour Energy Summit Celebration!

At the summit it was 6:30 pm and we had been on the go for over 15 hours. Konstantin had brought a couple of the 5-hour energy drinks which we happily finished hoping they would keep us energized all the way to the car.  A few summit shots later we started working our way down the talus to the final rappel.  With the summit in the bag I was feeling better since the way down was obvious.  Konstantin, having found the way down in much worse conditions, led the way and in no time we were in Contact Pass hiking towards our packs.

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Good thing it only took us 4 hours to get back to the car!!

I chose to take the faster, yet more exciting, way down the snow filed while Konstantin stuck to the talus. I got a bit wet but was down in time to find the spring (which was still running but just didn’t make it all the way down to the base of Dark Star), fill up our water bottles, and sort all of the gear I had. The mosquitoes were out in full force and despite putting my Buff over my head I got many bites on my scalp. Once Konstantin arrived it was 8:15 and we still had 7 miles to go!

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To Dark Star and its many loose pitches with breathtaking views.

Racing against dusk we slid and ran down the gravely talus as fast as possible.  By crossing near the second lake we could hopefully cut off some time on the decent and we would be able to get back to the car sooner. Reaching the old road and the two nice bridges we were back on the main trail and Konstantin surged with energy. I had been keeping up so far on the uneven ground but I was no match on the main trail. With headlamps illuminating the trail and my trekking poles swinging furiously we tried to make up as much time as possible. Almost running at times we made it back to the car by 10:30!! This gave us a sub 20 hour time (19:40) and we were psyched at our success.  Despite our 12 hours on route (which seemed slow to me despite 17 pitches or ~2500 feet of “climbing”) we had done the approach and decent quite quickly.  I had never hiked so fast and Konstantin made 7+ mile  summit to car push in a speedy 4 hours.

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Luke celebrates his first time to 13,000 feet!

Doing longer routes car to car is an interesting experience and so far I have felt fairly good the day of only to have the fatigue hit me later in the week. On Dark Star I felt the need to rush and was not so sure of where we were going beyond “up”.  I think it would have been a bit more fun if I had relaxed but it was hard due to all of the loose rock. I usually enjoy long granite routes because of the crack climbing which was sadly absent on Dark Star. It was wild to find so many incut holds on granite but the gear placement was trickier and there were many sections where you just couldn’t fall.

Committing to a C2C adventure adds a new twist to any long climb and makes one think about how best to utilize sunlight and good temperatures. As well going for 12+ hours changes the mental game as the mind struggles with decision making while exhausted. So far Dark Star took the longest of any climb I had done to date which is strange since it had the least amount of “technical” climbing.  On Positive Vibrations our 12+ hour time was due mainly to slow leading on the harder pitches not the length of the climb.  On the Red Dihedral our 16.5 hour C2C time was slow mainly due to the wind and cold.  One thing I find similar between Positive Vibs and Dark Star was the confusion and slowness due to tricky routefinding.

Dark Star was an important learning experience for me and makes me wonder about how far I am really interested in taking Alpine climbing. Possible I was spoiled by the splitter cracks on the Incredible Hulk and was expecting a longer version of the same thing on Dark Star. Regardless the climbing was beyond beautiful and it was a good challenge to climb at altitude.

Thanks for reading!

– Luke

How to enjoy the Incredible Hulk, a trip up Positive Vibrations

7 07 2009

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On our way to Twin Lakes and the Sawtooth Range.

Last year on Labor Day weekend, while Lizzy was away at Field Camp,  Konstantin and I climbed regular route on the Third Pillar of Dana and the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk. These were some of my first long 5.10 routes with significant approaches in an alpine setting. I had climbed 5.10+ in the Valley and Tuolumne before but Lizzy and I usually stick to routes closer to the car. Despite bad weather our trip in 2008 was a success, and Konstantin and I tentatively planned to go back to the Hulk for 4th of July weekend 2009.

I had struggled with the altitude during our Car to Car of the Red Dihedral so this time we decided to take it easy and hiked in and camped near the base of the Hulk. This would allow us a night at altitude to acclimatize and help us send the much harder Positive Vibrations.

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At the big trail side rock before crossing the stream.

Both on the way in and the way out in 2008 we got wet crossing the stream. This year we approached in daylight and were able to find a dry way across the small river. After about 2.5 miles of hiking on the main Barney Lake trail the rock in the photo above will be on the left side of the trail. It’s a pretty piece of granite and is hard to miss.  Continue up the trail at most 300 feet looking for a good way to cut left into the meadow. There is not much of a trail but you will be hiking perpendicular to the main trail towards the creek. The view should look something like the photo below.

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The best log crossing was beyond this meadow.  Simply walk towards the small striped cliff.

After the meadow the ground will turn a bit marshy and one should continue walking towards the stream trying best to avoid the random water channels. When you get to the water you should be able to see the rock in the photo below.  If  you don’t see the log jam continue up stream until you pass this rock.  In the off chance you approached to far up stream look for the cliff band in the photo above and go back down stream to it.  At this point you should still be dry and have almost made it across the stream!!

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This rock is just down stream of all the logs we crossed on.

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Konstantin is psyched to find a dry crossing.

We found a good number of logs and were able to cross without taking off our hiking boots. This spot is a bit down stream from the suggested “beaver dam” crossing but it was very easy to do and I recommend it. I think that it could even be done in the dark which is nice for a C2C ascent. After crossing the stream you continue up river with a bit of technical traversing on a rock ledge just above the water (seen in a photo below). Keep on going through some marshes on a trail that fades in and out until an obvious cairn at the beginning  of  steep switchbacks that go up through the trees. The rest of the SuperTopo description for the approach should get you to the base of the hulk.

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The various logs where we crossed the stream.

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A few fun moves  get you from the log crossing  to the trail. (This photo is from the way out so you would be traversing to the  right on the way in)

This year we had full back packs with food for two nights, a tent and a Jetboil but we were still able to make it to camp in about 3 hours. We camped about 25 mins below the hulk so it would be reasonable to hike higher up with full bags in under 4 hours. I thought our time was quite good and I was happy that my legs were not too tired. We managed not to get lost and only had to do a bit of over snow travel.

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The Hulk from our campsite.

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There were lots of mosquitoes so it was nice to have a tent.

We arrived and setup camp and decided on a brief nap. Laying on the rocks dodging mosquitoes and getting a bit of shuteye I managed to get a tiny hole in my Prolite 3 Thermarest. The first night I tried to sleep on our rope to get a bit of padding but I tossed and turned all night. On our second night Konstantin cut his foam pad in half which helped a bit but was no where as comfy as my Thermarest. Since I don’t backpack often I learned the hard way that it is worth while bringing a foam pad since it can’t accidentally get a hole.  I wonder if the first sleepless night was partially due to the altitude since we camped around 9300 feet.

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The sun lighting up the other side of the valley.

Incredible Hulk - July 09 218So psyched that its not windy.

We got up slowly on Saturday morning but still managed to get to the base of the route by 7am. It was not too chilly and I set off on the first pitch wearing a Cap2 and Pants. The granite was fairly solid and I was able to make quick progress and setup the first belay below the P2 crux.  The next pitch started off with 1oc tips and was well protected by nuts.  I had to do a hard pinky and ring finger move to gain a higher foot hold while Konstantine used a flake out to the side since his fingers were too big for the crack.  The 2nd pitch ended at two bolts rap station on a big ledge. This was our first lead swap and Konstantin took over  for the first crux pitch, which was supposed to be reachy. The wind had started a little and was blowing across the snow at the base chilling the Hulk. I switched to an R1 at the belay to keep warm while Konstantin expertly onsighted the pitch.

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Looking down at the base snowfield from the P2 ledge.

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7am mandatory pre climb photo!

Pitch 3 was fairly easy climbing until the crux face traverse that required commitment with gear a bit below your feet. I was worried I would not be able to make the reach with the pack on but after getting my feet sorted I fired the move and was at the belay. This belay was also bolted and the small ledge had very cool exposure. Pitch 4 required stepping across a small void into a stemming chimney. Konstantin, despite telling me he didn’t like stemming, confidently worked up the pitch and dispatched both crux bulges to another bolted belay.  The belay was on a nice ledge but put us out of sync with our topo. On the next pitch (the 5th) Konstantin stopped at a cool ledge with an obvious 2 bolt belay. This belay was not shown on our topo and was actually a belay for the Venturi Effect and caused us a bit of excitement.

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Are we excited for the first crux?

Pitch 6 was mine and the second crux pitch. The plan was to break it up into two sections to alleviate rope drag as suggested by MountainProject. The crack directly above the “belay” was about 2.5″ and did not match the 5.10c micro nut corner described by the SuperTopo. We were definitely on a cool ledge (which we thought was marked on the topo) so I decided to go for it. I climbed up passing two pins, also not on the topo, before things started getting more difficult.  I kept going to a bolt at which point I was fairly sure the climbing was too hard and  I was off route. As well I could see another two bolt anchor about 50 feet to the left that might be the correct belay before pitch 6. I left a biner on the bolt and lowered down and traversed to the a two bolt belay with a bunch of old slings.

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Konstantine at the belay after onsighting the first 11a crux (P3).

This was definitely not a “cool” ledge but rather a COLD one. However around the corner I could see the correct next pitch and after some trickery Konstantin followed and I got back on track. I later found out the pitch I had attempted was 5.12- and P7 on The Venturi Effect. The hard climbing on Pitch 6 started right away and there was crazy exposure as you stepped around the corner from the bolted belay. I fiddled in a few small nuts and started stemming. I was happy to have lead Pure Palm and TRed Sunshine Dihedral at Smith Rock the previous week and was very prepared for this lead. Once past the stemming there as an awkward rest and some crazy laybacking/underclinging around a roof to a crack in a chimney. I kept my weight on my feet and got through it taking time to chill out and make sure to control my breathing since we were above 10,00 feet.

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A slightly chilled Luke on belay duty.

After pulling over the last 10c bulge I was at a good stance but was running out of gear. I couldn’t see the bolt I was supposed to belay at and made an anchor and went off belay. After fiddling around  for a while I looked up and saw the bolt and had Konstantin put me back on. Unfortunately the rope drag was so bad that I had to pull through about 20 feet of rope and climbed the next section without a good belay.  I reached the stance but was confused since the finger crack I just climbed was no way 10d. I should have checked the SuperTopo page for the route which notes the finger crack is more like 10a/b. Konstantin was able to free the rope, that had been causing the drag, and followed the pitch noting that stemming was farily tricky.

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Konstantin heading up the fifth pitch.

Thinking I was at an incorrect belay, not having climbed 10d fingers, I continued up the crack instead of going left across the face for the correct ending of pitch 6.  This led me up the “12a fingers” variation on the SuperTopo which brought me up to a large seemingly detached flake and a belay on the right. I knew this was not my belay (actually the belay after P8 of Venturi Effect) so I did not stop. I also knew I needed to go left and so I embarked on the hardest climbing of the day. There was an steep V slot that accepted a #2 camalot at the bottom. A lack of feet below the slot  prevented me from jamming and forced me to improvise. After much hesitation I committed and laybacked up the right side pasting my feet on the left wall hoping to figure something out. As my feet got up higher I was able to work them into the slot and pulled inside and was greeted with a hand jam. Adrenaline pumping I found some face feet got in a couple of nuts and pulled on to a windy headwall. The crisp alpine air felt so good and I was psyched to still be climbing. I kept going up working steadily left and found myself on a wall of splitters.


Chilling out on top of the crazy flake before committing to the layback.


Luke on leads up the overhanging Slot.  Last two photos thanks to Wendy! (She was part of the first party we saw on the Red Dihedral)

I thought that perhaps I could be in the right place and but was instead too high and to the right (See Photo Below) . I tried traversing left but could neither reach nor see the correct hand crack.  Tired and running out of gear I tried to go up the middle crack but a lack of foot holds cause me to downclimb. Finally I committed to the far right crack and slowly made my way up the wall using my feet as much as possible. I needed to save my cams for a belay and ended up desperately placing nuts using locking biners to clip in since I was out of quickdraws. I saw a slab above and used my glove biner as my last point of gear, unable to remove my gloves since I was so pumped.  I made it onto the slab and placed another nut but had nothing to clip to it. I left the nut in the crack and kept going and got in a #1 before finding a ok crack to make a belay.


I took the crack just left of the red line. (photo from

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It was cold. I swear… (I was actually adding another layer)

Konstantin and I were pretty sure we were lost but there were still cracks above so I kept going. Our 8th pitch was similar to the end of the last pitch with flaring finger cracks that were not too cruxy but very sustained. After gaining a ledge I thought we might be back on track but the cracks continued to be filled with lichen as I climbed up and down the trying to find the best way. After a few hard moves to gain yet another ledge I was below another wall of splitters. This ledge was the biggest yet and traversed way right towards the summit. I saw some fixed nuts and set up a belay far to the right about 20 feet above a rap station that we saw later on. I would guess that this rap station was either for Astro Hulk or Venturi Effect.

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A summit self-portrait from Konstantin

At this point we knew the difficulties should be over and hopefully we could simul climb to the top. Konstantin took back the lead and started traversing right before dead ending in a bushy corner. We re belayed and then simuled about 500 feet on the right side of the ridge past lots of loose rock. It was clear that no one went this way.  Eventually Konstantin lead us over the notch and I recognized the 3rd class traverse to the final two pitches of Red Dihedral. It was still a bit early in the season and we had to climb over snow to reach the last two chimneys.

After swapping leaders, so I could climb the final two pitches,  we caught up with the second party that was doing Red Dihedral. We had a nice chat and followed them up the final chimney and let them rap our rope after getting to the summit and descending to the rap station.

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After 10+ hours on route I was a bit tired…

The first part of the descent was fairly casual with loose sand and scree. We had done this part before and moved fairly quickly. Since we were still fairly early in the season the bottom gully was still filled with snow and added some excitement to our decent. Konstantine went first with a sharp rock in each hand and started kicking steps. I followed him, happy to have my insulated belay gloves, and kicked the steps even deeper since I was a bit unnerved by the steep snow. The couple from SLC followed us down the snow filled gully and we all made it safely to the bottom. It was one of those no fall times but I’m sure that it was much less steep than it seemed.

After picking up my pack I was anxious to get back to camp and did a bit of glacading on the less steep snow (seen in a photo above) to speed things up. Even with the soft snow it took a little less than 2 hours from the summit back to camp. I think next time it might be worth while to bring a 2nd rope and rap the route, as long as it was not windy.   Back at camp we had a yummy dinner thanks to Mountain House. I highly recommend the freeze dried Pasta Primavera, I even added tuna for extra protein! It was after 9pm and it had taken about 14 hours camp to camp and we were ready for sleep.

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One of the many pretty wildflowers in the Hoover Wilderness

The next morning we overslept our alarm but still were packed up and moving down the trail before 8am. We flew down the trail and made it back to the car by 10am an amazing time for sure! After a cooling dip in the lake we stopped in Bridgeport for lunch at the tasty Burger Barn which despite the title also serves Mexican food!  8 hours and a bit of traffic later returned us to San Diego before 7pm. It  was nice to be back so early from a weekend and to get to relax a bit before another busy week at work.

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A victory BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport!

This trip was a really fun and I was very happy to perform so well at altitude. I am hoping to go back and do the proper finish to Positive Vibrations and possible try out some of the pitches on Venturi Effect and Sunspot Dihedral.