A ‘Brief’ Personal Climbing History

2 09 2009

This post will be far from “brief”, but considering how much I could write about each route I consider personally significant, this is short. The feeling of a prized send, a realized dream or even a hard attempt is difficult to describe so I will give a simple overview of  my many years of climbing.

I come from an outdoorsy family.  My parents both ski-ed, were avid scuba divers and enjoyed the outdoors. Despite this I grew up with a funny concept of camping since we always road-tripped in a ’78 Chevy van that my dad had converted to have a bed and a special sleeping spot for me. I remember the first time I saw a tent and was confused about what it was for. I had my special fort in the van where I slept, and I had never camped ‘outside’.


Too cool, wearing cutoff Gramicci’s and wearing Oakleys…


On one of the many “solos” at Marymoor. I often wouldn’t touch the ground for an hour  or more.

In middle school I was not as outdoorsy as the other kids despite going on various hiking trips around Washington. I became a bit more “normal” in 8th grade when I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and climbing indoors at Vertical World in Fremont (before it was torn down to create the Adobe Complex). After 8th grade I was pretty hooked on indoor climbing and my dad and I almost built a climbing wall at our house.

Before going to high school I took a 3 week Outward Bound course in Oregon. We spent a week rafting the full Deschutes River and then spent. Two weeks learning how to mountaineer (use ice axes) and eventually climbed the Middle Sister.  While I had been climbing indoors and on artificial outdoor structures Outward Bound was most likely my first real rock climbing. We top roped some easy cliff band in our La Sportiva Makalu’s and it was fun. We came back later that night with a full moon and rappelled down the wall exciting!

When ya gotta Aid you just gotta

Aiding up the Monkey’s Face on our 9 hour (yikes) 5 person ascent of the West Face Variation.

In high school one of my first friends was a climber and had been climbing for years with his father. Through my friend Hartley and the outdoor program at Overlake I slowly learned about climbing outside. During the summer I spent my time at Marymoor park bouldering, traversing and soloing on the climbing wall there.  I often would spend 4 days a week climbing still a bit oblivious to going to a crag to lead routes on my own.


The door to my bouldering success at Bucknell.


Our new routes board at the Bucknell Climbing Wall.

From junior to senior year in high school my focus on climbing shifted towards ultimate frisbee but I was still enthusiastic about the sport and upon graduation bought my first set of cams.  Until this point I had been climbing indoors on ropes and leading a bit of sport and trad outdoors but had never really bouldered. I did traversing and short boulder problems but I didn’t think too much of it.

The Summit!!

Gordon points to the summit of Tower II on our climb of the Yellow Spur

College brought about a big change in my climbing as I now had access to a small climbing wall on campus and could climb almost 5 days a week (seen above).  Due to the height of the wall we mainly bouldered and in the first month of college I went on my first outdoor bouldering trip.  My strength increased a lot my freshman year and my climbing took another big step when I ended up working at Vertical World in Redmond the summer of 2004.  My life was climbing and this year saw my biggest increases thus far. I went from V1 to V4 (indoors) and lead my first trad 5.9 (Godzilla at Index) sent my first 5.11b (Aborigine at Exit 38) and did my first 5.9 multipitch leading all the pitches (The Yellow Spur in El Dorado canyon). I returned to college much stronger and full of power.


Working up Five Finger Discount at the Red River Gorge.

Sophomore Year went fairly quickly and my sport climbing was taking off. I broke further into 5.11 at the Red River Gorge and the Obed but my trad climbing was lagging. I had taken a few trips to the Gunks but had yet to make it to 5.10.  I climbed my first 5.10+ crack at the T-Wall outside of Chattanooga but couldn’t figure out the Gunks. I had been thinking of studying abroad and decided that going to Melbourne would be a great academic challenge and would allow me to go to “school” at Mt. Arapiles.


Flashing It’ll Never Fly at Mount Arapiles 23/24  (5.11+)

Victoria, the Australian state where Melbourne is located, has a strict trad ethic and taught me a lot while I was there. These 6 months of 2005 brought my trad climbing to a new level as I moved into 5.11 routes. I learned how to place gear faster and found the relaxed zone required for hard and runout routes.  A big mental change also took place as I learned to accept the local  standards for climbing style.

The route the changed my mind was a popular toprope on the Kitten Wall above the Watchtower Faces called Hard Nipples. At 22 (11b) this route was at my limit and after doing it clean on TR I wanted to lead it. The gear was beyond tricky and I was pissed that it had not been bolted. I steamed at my partner but he told me that since it was possible to be lead on gear, it should be lead on gear. A month or so later after leading a few 21s and 22s I realized the route was in my reach.  I toproped the route again and figured out the gear and was amazed that I could find something that would work.

New Zealand 05 - Mark 005

Way excited to be at Castle Hill!

The first boulder problem would have to be soloed to about the 20 foot mark but I knew I could do it and committed to the techy moves and reached the ledge. In when two cams and I started up the steep section. one more cam and then the crux. Grab a left hand pocket and make a full span right to a good hold. Reach back and plug a red TCU in the pocket and work up into a roof. A blind yellow alien above your head and then the final face crux. A few moves get your feet over the roof and then easy moves lead to a bolted anchor. I had sent and in doing so had changed my perspective on bolts and had done my first 22 gear lead!

New Zealand 05 - Mattie 102

Learning how to Mantel at Castle Hill, New Zealand


Attempting my first 24 at the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia

Returning to the states I quickly lost my trad lead head but still had the power from the longest time of climbing I have ever had. I put this power to good use on a trip to Horsepens 40 in January 2006 and sent my first two V6’s and a V7.  Also on this trip while in the Obed I climbed my first 12a a long time goal that had evaded me in Australia despite doing my first 24 (5.11d) in New Zealand. From November 2005 until the 2nd week of January 2006 I had climbed almost 50 days culminating with a first place finish in Mens Advanced at my first ABS comp at SportRock.


Toproping my first 5.11 crack – at Mount Buffalo, Australia

Dirty South 06 - Gordon 447

Going for the crux deadpoint on Undertow (my first 12a) at the Obed.

Sadly all my my climbing and enthusiasm would start having consequences in 2006. Psyched to climb as hard as possible on an upcoming trip to the Red River Gorge I started intense campus training. The day after a session of two finger campusing I had pain in my left ring finger. I properly took a week off and slowly eased back into climbing with a month before my trip. Over the next many years my finger has given me varying amounts of trouble. I was able to climb fairly well at the Red River Gorge and returned to college psyched as ever for the next bouldering comp, this time the Mammut Gravity Brawl in New Jersey. My friend Adam and I had a blast but during the comp but I dislocated my right shoulder on a V7 that where I had campused into an Iron Cross and was trying to do the next move.


Hanging out at the Mammut Gravity Brawl after dislocating my shoulder.

Governor Stable Comp 06 - Luke 028

Hanging out and taking photos at Governor’s Stables.

My shoulder only partially subluxed and in 6 months I was climbing fairly well again and have since sent harder problems and routes than before the injury. The main thing that changed was my climbing style. I was no longer so willing to dyno freely and took a lot more time to think about the moves and make sure I would not re-injure my shoulder. This mental change brought with it a bit more hesitation and fear and still effects me today.


Flashing the classic Ro-Shampo 5.11d/12a at the Red River Gorge.

NRG Nov 06  - 119

Flashing Bourbon Sauce 5.11d at the New River Gorge

(My ambition to do this route was  inspired by a trio of women who sent it when I was at the crag 3 years earlier.)

After healing up and sending a handful of 5.12’s by the end of 2006 I turned my attention to bouldering for my senior year. I wanted to climb V7 again and worked on power. My crowning achievements from that year were The Bubbler V6 and Iron Lion V7 at Haycock Mountain.  After graduating and working on bouldering for a little while including a send of Blue Flame v7 at Tramway I switched back to roped climbing. The blue flame had taken many tries over two days and had done a number on my shoulder.

First day of attempts on Iron Lion V7.

Haycock 4-14-07 - 169

Many months later sending my hardest boulder problem yet.

Haycock 4-8-07 - 042

Loving the Triassic Diabase of The Bubbler V6

Climbing on routes I could still push my limits climbing 5.12 and didn’t have to worry about moves that were as taxing as bouldering. In 2007 Lizzy became my main climbing partner and we focused on sport climbing to train for a trip to the Red River Gorge for the Petzl Roc Trip. This training was very effective and Lizzy saw large strength increases and I onsighted my first 12a. At the RRG I onsighted another 12a and Lizzy flashed her first 11b.  Onsight climbing is tricky business and I was happy to have achieved another long time goal.

In 2008 we started the year with a lot more trad climbing and Lizzy attempted here first 5.12 leads at Indian Creek. By 2008 I had adjusted to the climbing scene in San Diego and found a strong and committed partner. During the summer of 2008 I stared to have real endurance and spent a bit more times on harder routes. I managed to climb my first 5.12c and 5.13a and turned my focus towards my super project Equinox.


Putting up a second wall in my training room back in Maryland.

Equinox as I have written in the past was the hardest project that I have ever attempted. When I first tried it I hated it soo much was entirely frustrated and uninterested. Lizzy persisted in her desire to climb the route and we spent many Equinox days out in J-Tree until in November when I finally did it clean on TR. My goal was an ascent with preplaced gear (which fit the remaining time in the J-Tree season) and I got it down to one or two falls on lead. One particular week my skin was particularly soft and I was trying so hard that I removed half of the skin from all my fingers. This put a dent in my schedule so we took some time to boulder and I came back full of power.  The day of my redpoint I barely made it out of bed not wanting to make the drive to J-Tree. When I sent,  after 3 false starts or failed attempts, the route fit together perfectly and I made it to the anchors with a mild pump but fully in control. This was an excellent ending to 2008 and I could not have been happier.

I had been taking steps towards climbing harder routes and my goal for 2009 was to develop more power and break into the 5.13 grade. Since Equinox had been my first 5.12 trad route I wanted to keep up with my crack climbing skills and try to progress on other routes in J-Tree. 2009 has been quite the wild ride since I have been injured since late January and have been unable to crimp well with my left hand. In recent months I have gained back fitness and had an excellent trip in Indian Creek with multiple 5.11 trad onsights. I was able to jam without harming my finger. Now in August I am starting to feel powerful again and have started campus training. Having done a few 12a’s quickly I think that I am ready to try some harder projects.

Since life is a bit up in the air I have yet to commit to a given route. My motivation in May was very high for a trip to Zion. I had one of my best trad climbing days with a 5.12 and two 5.11 onsights.  My motivation is currently on the Incredible Hulk where I had an amazing ascent of a variation of Positive Vibrations and then went back and onsighed the standard finish pitches.

With a strong showing this past weekend at Pine Creek, including a 5.12a onsight, I think that I may beable to make some progress in 2009.

Thanks for reading aren’t you glad it was `brief` 😉

– Luke

6 Things I Learned in Zion

8 06 2009

Zion - May 09 - 044

A cloudy day in Zion.

(1) Places that are not Southern California have this weird thing called “Weather”.

Although here in SoCal we can just check to make sure it’s not going to be too hot where we’re going, other more exotic locales, like Zion, have actual weather that can prevent climbing. Like thunderstorms. Our first day in Zion was cloudy, with off-and-on rain and a bit of thunder and lightning. We decided to bail from 2.5 pitches up because it’s generally a Bad Idea to climb sandstone when it’s wet. Then we spent our 2nd day on a day trip to Bryce National Park waiting for the rock to dry out. When we actually got to climb on the 3rd today (Sunday) it was pretty hot and sunny with a perfect blue sky. This weather thing is pretty crazy.

Zion - May 09 - 022

Making grumpy faces because it’s raining…

(2) Falling happens, and it’s not actually the end of the world.

The first 4 pitches of the route were mine to lead: 5.8, 5.10c, 5.10c, and 5.6. I had a lot of pre-climb jitters on Friday morning. I hadn’t been doing a ton of leading, especially multi-pitch trad leading, and I have a huge problem with getting incredibly intimidated about climbing somewhere new, especially a big deal place like Zion. But I lead the first pitch just fine and was moving on to my onsight attempt for first 5.10 pitch. Theoretically, 5.10 should be within my onsight limit. After a bit of struggling, I made it past a pumpy, weird roof section that I thought was probably the crux and got into the pod-y crack above. I got a bit nervous and clipped my cams direct instead of adding quickdraws. I tried to layback myself up to ledge above, but realized that I’d need to stem out with one of my feet to make the next move. I reached way out with my toe and then I was in the air. I think my foot slipped. My last piece (a green C3) had been below my feet and I ended up falling about 2o feet.

After we worked out some of my gear issues (I needed to put QD’s on some gear to eliminate some awful rope drag I created by falling), I shook and trembled my way past my highpoint and eventually flopped onto the ledge with the next anchor.

Zion - May 09 - 242

Taking a break one of the belays.

(3) I need to work on not freaking out.

I should have been psyched to have made it through the part I fell on the first time, but I was mostly just mentally drained from falling. Usually I know that I’m going to fall (this was a bit of a surprise). Usually I don’t fall quite that far (it was pretty far). I did recover (after a while) to start leading the next pitch, but then it started raining (that whole “weather” thing), so we ended up bailing and hiking the Angel’s Landing trail to stash a backpack with some water on top for our next attempt.

Zion - May 09 - 213

Following the 6th pitch, a 5.11a. Very cool.

(4) C3s are much better than I originally gave them credit for. The more I use Master Cams, the more they annoy the crap out of me. But Aliens are still by far the best small cams.

The cam I fell 20ft onto was a green C3. It was an ok placement – the two inner lobes were perfect, but the outer one was not ideal (it was a slightly flaring crack). But it held like a dream, to my surprise… We also were impressed with the placements of the green and purple C3s at various places along the route. They fit quite well in places where Aliens don’t work.

However, when we actually sent the route, I had to take twice on the 5.12b pitch, which I think I could have followed clean, were it not for the 2 Master Cams I had to take out. Let’s take a second to consider the Master Cam. While for other cams – Aliens, C4s, TCUs – you can just pull all the way on the trigger to retract the cam lobes and wiggle the cam out, Master Cams often demand quite a bit of finesse to remove. If you pull all the way on the trigger of a Master Cam, the little extra bumps on the outside edges of the cam lobes will wedge themselves in the crack. To actually take it out, you have to pull all the way and then ease back a little on the trigger. This is not always easy to do. We have blue, yellow, red, and black Master Cams and they are BY FAR the most getting-stuck cams on our rack. We do not plan to get any more of these.

But Aliens still rock the socks off any other small cams we’ve used. They fit almost anywhere, walk less than TCUs or C3s, and are easy to remove, unlike Master Cams. I know Aliens are difficult to find, but Master Cams are just not a valid substitute for the real thing.

(5) When you stash water at the top of a route, bring AT LEAST twice as much as you think you’ll want. Plus bring extra water on the climb, too. It sucks to be trying to do hard climbing on only a few sips of water per pitch.

Not sure this one requires much description. It was much warmer on the day we actually did the route than on the day we bailed, so our downsized amount of water and our half Nalgene (why? why not full? hindsight 20/20, right?) was not really adequate. I definitely had some issues with my hands and forearms cramping, but we survived to the top of the route (topping out around sunset) and hiked down the nice Angel’s Landing trail to the bus stop. Dinner was a burrito and some chips and salsa at the Mexican place in town.

Zion - May 09 - 243

This is what Luke looks like when he’s tired and dehydrated. How many pitches are left??

(6) I need to be better at not getting tired.

I don’t know whether its my nutrition or my fitness (or both), but I just don’t have as much energy as Luke. I guess I should do more general endurance training – long runs, long gym sessions, anything involving doing stuff for a long time. Hopefully that helps.

Well, that’s about it for this post. We’ll be doing a more conventional trip report of our Zion weekend soon. Plus, keep an eye out for us in Smith Rock the last week of June and Squamish the first week of July.

5 Reasons I Love the Pacific Northwest

1 12 2008

I really like visiting Seattle and the surrounding region. Here’s why:

  1. Moist air – great for the skin
  2. Trees – they’re green and they make the air smell nice
  3. Clouds – I miss them here in SoCal
  4. Friends and family – it’s nice to catch up with everyone
  5. Rock climbing – just being closer to Index, Squamish, and Smith Rock makes me happier

But, alas, we are now back in the hot dryness of SoCal. At least I only have one week of class left and not much in terms of finals. I’ve only got one school application and 2 fellowship applications to go. And in a week and a half I will be out in the field working on my project. Which is awesome because fieldwork is much more fun and exciting than homework.

Hopefully everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Luke and I had fun in Bishop before heading to Seattle. I even flashed my first “V4” – Hard Crack at the Happy Boulders. It probably wasn’t V4. But it was awesome and the fall would have been scary, had I taken it. A longer TR with lots of photos to come soon.


No Lizzy Posts for a While

26 08 2008

Sometimes, there are things other than rock climbing that happen in our lives. I am about to experience one of these things. Starting Friday, I will be out in the desert for 3 weeks for Caltech’s field camp, a pretty standard experience for geology students that involves going out into the field, walking around a lot, and figuring out what is going on with the rocks out there.

Although I’m not excited about not getting to see Luke or go climbing for so long, I am still excited to go out and learn a lot. Geology is one of those fields where you tend to learn a lot more out in the field than in some classroom and I always come back from most field trips really motivated about geology, which will be a good way to start my senior year.

So you’ll probably only get to read Luke’s posts for a while, but hopefully he will still be doing some sweet things while I am busy – starting with the Third Pillar of Dana and the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk this coming weekend.



East Coast Crimping, a day in Rumney, NH

16 07 2008

Rumney has to be one of my favorite sport climbing areas in the country. Beautiful rock tucked away in the rolling hills of New England. The various crags offer a variety of angles on interesting rock of many different colors. Climbing mid week we were able escape the Rumney scene that has developed in recent years.

It seems fitting that I returned to Rumney en route to my friend Adam’s wedding for it was with him that I first visited Rumney. On my first and only other trip to Rumney Adam and I headed out for the 7+ hour drive from Bucknell on a Wednesday night. Some how we were both able to play hooky for a few days and wanted to get a bit of climbing in before the snow set in for the winter. We drove north through pouring rain too excited and stubborn to let the weather effect our mood. Despite almost two and half days of rain on a 4 day trip we had a blast, sent hard and vowed to come back to our unset projects.

This trip was to be my glorious return to Rumney and we sure had a blast. Lizzy and Rebecca had never been to Rumney and I was excited to show them the many fun climbs Adam and I had played on over a year previous. Our day started at Waimea and we had the cliff all to our self. The sun still hiding behind the rocks and we enjoyed to cool shade. The name sake climb and the easiest on the wall is Waimea 10d. This climb follows black water streaks up a vertical wall to a tricky crux on runnels and feet pointing the wrong direction.

Waimea sits next to some of the hardest routes at Rumney and while moderate in grade can be quite pumpy. In the second photo you can see Livin’ Astro 14c, China Beach 14b, and Jaws II 15a. While not a great warm-up for those climbing 5.11 it was our only option. Lizzy was able to work through a trick top crux, ignoring my incorrect beta, and set despite a dizzying flash pump. Rebecca quickly worked her way up to the crux and could not figure out the sequence and took a nice clean lead fall. Working on her mental game she got back on the route and finished it up.

My main goal and unsent project from my last trip was Techno Surfing 12b. On my final burn last trip I had fallen post crux with only one draw between me and the anchors. While the technical crux is much lower there is one hard move right before the last bolt and then you are quite pumped making the final moves to the anchor. On my first try I wimped out at the crux and took. I was a bit out of my mental space and was not excited to see the same fixed draws on the route as the last time i had been on it almost a year and half earlier. I hung my way up the route and figured out all of the beta and lowered to rest. Lizzy was busy taking a nap recovering from our late night and day of travel so Rebecca went to work on Flyin’ Hawaiian (photo below). I had history with this line and was excited to see how it would feel. The start was quite bouldery with difficult moves over a rocky landing so we stick clipped the first two bolts. Rebecca worked through a good intro sequence but was falling off a strenuous left hand pinch. Lizzy woke up rested and excited to give it a go. She was able to refine the start beta and match the left pinch but could not keep body tension to get her feet up and make the next move. After many tries the ladies opted for some rest and I got back on Techno Surfing.

The first hard moves went well (photo below) and in no time I was resting below the crux bulge. I started off into the crux sequence and then the rope got stuck on my harness buckle while I was trying to clip. I dangled from the two handed jug and waved my legs around. Helpless to change it I heel hooked above my head and clipped. Energy sapped I forced my self to continue and made it through to the next ledge rest. Commitment and fast movement would be key for the last hard move. I crimped hard with my left hand committed and a few moves later found my self clipping the anchors.

Next I lead Flyin’ Hawaiian which was just as hard as I remembered and Lizzy and Rebecca top roped it. They both found it thuggish and fell at the tricky moves that gained the upper dihedral. Hoping to get in some more enjoyable for the girls we headed over to Orange Crush. This wall is steep at the top but offers some nice vertical lines in the middle of the cliff. I had hoped to link the full Black Mamba which Adam and I had done in two pitches but the top section was seeping. Technical moves on beautiful black rock make this route one of the best 5.11’s at Rumney. The vertical small hold climbing allowed the girls to use their balance as they danced up this route. Rebecca enjoyed it so much she did it twice. Both Lizzy and Rebecca vowed to lead it when they return.I had time to finish up one more project and got on Captain Hook. It was a bit warmer and more humid at Orange Crush which was less than ideal for the small crimps on this route. After hanging the draws and remembering the beta I was able to send on my second try. The first crux deadpoint was much harder than I remembered but I was in control and only mildly pumped at the top crux. Also I found a left kneebar that allowed me to easily clip the anchors.

We were all tired and it was getting late so we got pizza in town. A nice treat after a long day of hard climbing! It was great to get back to Rumney and I cant wait to return!

– Luke

4 Reasons Why Alaska Rocks the Socks Off United

16 07 2008

Luke and my recent travel to the east coast has got me thinking about flying. In this day of airlines that are expensive, limiting on your baggage, and charging you for any “real” food, I think it’s ok to play favorites. You’ve gotta hold on to those few things that still make flying a good experience (i.e. being happy that you’re not flying another airline).

(1) Baggage.

  • United: It’s surprising how often they lose them. Once when my family was traveling back to Seattle from Florida our bags ended up in New Jersey. New Jersey!!! I’ve also had to physically GO to the baggage office to pick my bag out of a pile because they couldn’t seem to find it there.
  • Alaska: Has never lost my bags. (Knock on wood)

(2) Food.

  • United: There is none and when there was, it wasn’t very good. Although this seems like an airline standard these days.
  • Alaska: When they gave real food, it was great (like a piece of good coffee cake on a 1hr flight from Seattle to Portland). Now, even though you don’t get much, they do give you milk and a warm (yes, warm) cookie on later flights.

(3) Lateness.

  • United: Although the occasional flight is on time, everything else is almost always late. Flying through Chicago generally guarantees you will be late.
  • Alaska: More often than not, I arrive early. (Although I’m usually flying between SoCal and Seattle, which makes things a little easier.)

(4) Mechanical problems.

  • United: Over 50% of the United planes I get on are delayed at least a little by them fixing some mechanical problem. More than once I’ve had to get on and off multiple planes as they change their minds about whether or not they could fix them.
  • Alaska: Maybe once or twice. I’ve never had to get off a plane to use another one because they just couldn’t fix it.

Moral to the story? When flying on the west coast, fly Alaska. When flying across the country, expect suffering. When flying to Australia, fly Qantas – you get your own video screen (in coach) with tons of movies, TV, and games; they feed you a LOT, including yummy things like chicken curry and a little snack bag for overnight; and the flight attendants have Aussie accents.


A Trip Back in Time: The Very Bad Day

15 07 2008

Although we’ve got plenty of stories to tell about our recent trip to New England for climbing, visiting, and Adam and Kearah’s wedding, I wanted to take a moment to recount something that happened to us a couple years ago.

It happened on July 11, 2006, and it was The Very Bad Day.

Summer 2006, I was living in the house of my friends John and Olivia, who run a guiding service called Northwest Mountain School. At this point in my life, I was still keeping alive the dream of becoming a rock guide – I had plenty of experience from guiding students in my high school and being a camp counselor at Camp Sealth, and I had my WFR certification. So I was trying to live the dream, living in Leavenworth, hanging out with the guide crowd, and not working… Luke, meanwhile, had decided to take a job in Bellevue, so we were both in Washington for the summer! (Although we were 2+ hours apart, which seems to be a common element…) Luke had spent the weekend with me in Leavenworth and had gotten up early (5:30ish) on Monday morning to drive to work in Bellevue.

En route to Snoqualmie Pass, Luke had just driven over Blewett Pass when a deer ran out into the road. The collision of the deer and Luke’s beloved Justy totalled the car. Via a variety of phone calls from passersby and a state trooper, I got the message that I needed to go pick up Luke because he’d had an accident. I didn’t realize that he had no cell service where he was, so I was terrified that something really bad had happened.

So I drove up to Blewett Pass and picked up Luke, who was safe and uninjured if a little shaken. We headed back to J & O’s place in Leavenworth so he could make some calls to his insurance company and his mom.

The Justy, post close encounter of the deer variety

A little later that day, we realized that we needed to head back to the Justy to retrieve a couple more things, including the stereo, which belonged to Hartley. So we headed up SR-97 again. I was following a stationwagon going a little below the speed limit about a mile before the pass, when the stationwagon swerved aggressively into the left uphill lane. Luke yelled “tire, tire, tire”, and I had a split second view of something large and black rolling towards me before it hit us as I was trying to swerve left out of the way. The impact of the tire caused the airbags to go off, but the car continued left through the other uphill lane and the the downhill lane, rolling onto the passenger side and hitting the rock embankment.

I said, “This is a very bad day.” Then Luke helped me push open the driver door and we climbed up and out (a weird thing to do indeed) of the car, with me shouting at Luke to take out the car keys (something I’d remembered you were supposed to do), triggered by the eerie sound of the CD player still playing Jason Mraz.

I don’t really remember the order that the next series of events happened, but I know that we were trying to take everything (all my climbing stuff and some of Luke’s climbing stuff) out of the car, I was sitting on the gravel on the side of the road, shocked and crying, and Luke and a series of helpful people were putting out my car (yes, the engine was on fire).


What happened was this: the dualy drive tire (2 tires and connecting metal parts) of a semi-truck coming down the highway from Blewett Pass came off the truck and started rolling down the highway. After trying to run down his tire to nudge it off the road, the truck was out-speeded by the tire, so he pulled over. The car in front of me saw the tire, so he swerved. I had barely any time to react, so my car, going uphill at 55mph, collided with the tire, which was coming downhill at something like 70-80mph. The impact totalled the car.

Some important parts appear to be bent.

A lot of people were wonderful and stopped to help us. There was the Homeland Security guy who helped put the fire out before rushing back to his armored van (he just happened to be there, we think he was transporting a suspect or something), the other people with fire extinguishers, the lady who comforted me and used her analog cell service to call for help, the truck driver (whose truck the tire belonged to) who also donated his fire extinguisher and information, the EMTs who offered to give us a ride back to John and Olivia’s in the ambulance since we no longer had any transportation, and Jeff and Kristen, who lent us their van to drive to Wenatchee to get Luke a rental car so he could get back to work.

Notably absent from this group of people was that car that swerved before me, which sped off after the accident. Maybe they thought it was their fault, but whoever you are, you lost a LOT of karma points that day.

So ended the wonderful service of Luke’s Justy and my ’97 RAV4. Although we were sad to use them, we also felt incredibly lucky to be alive and, even better, uninjured. Luke got a little piece of glass in his knee from the broken passenger window, but that was the only injury. To this day Luke still gets extremely nervous around deer and I still get probably even more nervous around semi-trucks, especially on hills. Apparently accidents like this are not rare – plenty of people have been killed by accidents caused by tires coming off semi trucks.

So I guess the moral to the story… beware of deer during the pre-sunrise and sunset witching hours and GO AHEAD AND PASS that slow stationwagon in front of you instead of trying to be conservative – it could save you and your car.

Safe driving, everyone.


Maine Wedding

15 07 2008
Adam, one of my best friends and climbing partner from Bucknell got married this past weekend. Lizzy and I flew out to the east coast for the ceremony and a bit of pre-wedding climbing.

We were able to see my mom in Boston on Wednesday for dinner and then drove up to Rumney Thursday morning with Rebecca who flew in from Detroit. A nice storm on Wednesday night dropped the temps about 20 degrees and made the summer a bit more bearable.

It was still a bit humid during our day in Rumney with a large helping of bugs. Regardless it was a great day of climbing and I was able to finish off some projects. More posts about that later once we get all the photos together.

The wedding up in rural Maine was spectacular and it was good to see many friends from Bucknell. We are scattered all over the country now and it is tricky to get everyone back together. From California to Texas, Maine to Michigan, Massachusetts to North Carolina, everyone has spread out from humble Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
I just wanted to give my best wishes to Adam and Kearah Donato who are off in Hawaii enjoying the Sun, Sea and Sand!

You two are great and I am sure the years to come will be amazing!

– Luke

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!

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.