Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Heaven on Earth?

What is the most awesome situation you can imagine? Some people I know might answer it's all the beer you can drink!

Well, that is exactly what I encountered when I went to visit my friend Wendy in Hawaii! Wendy's husband Rich is the head of the brewery operations at Kona Island Brewery. Can you imagine having your very own "kegerator" in your home? Wendy and Rich do! We should get one if we ever settle down in a house again!

OK, so besides the beer, Wendy's son supplied us with endless stories to entertain us. In the afternoon, I went down to pick him up from preschool in his red wagon.
Every day in Hawaii is a day at the beach.
One day we saw 3 sharks snorkeling, which I'm told is a very special event, as even some locals haven't seen them. Lucky for me, one of the volcanos in Kona is currently erupting and smothering the island in VOG (=volcanic smog), which saved me from getting too sunburned. We escaped the VOG on Saturday by heading north to Popolu Beach (left). We stopped to eat at "Bamboo Restaurant" on the way back, where I met my downfall, the"Lilikoi Margarita", otherwise known as the "Passionfruit Margarita". The Lilikoi has taken a very prominent role in my life since that fated day. On Sunday, we took a short hike at Honualua, where we saw some beautiful ferns, orchids and !lilikoi!!

New addictions from Hawaii:
1. Lilikoi Margaritas
2. Sudoku
3. Sriricha sauce

Thursday, March 20, 2008


For the past month, we've been enjoying the climbing at Tam O'Shanter, the center stage of the biggest controversy in Arizona climbing. Crooked politicians, political rivalries, big mining and not to mention the heated opinions among the climbing community itself! It's the stuff made for a political thriller. In any case, we loved the climbing there so much that I made a movie (some photo credits go to Mike also!). Click here to watch.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Photo Debut!

One of my photos made the headlines at Stonemaster Gear! Click here to check it out!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Ragdoll Climbs Moby Dick

There I was; dangling 150 ft above the abyss with a gale force wind tossing me to and fro like a tumbleweed in the dust bowl. I was petrified and all on my own to get to the bottom. Just minutes before Mike had dropped over the edge on rappel with some sage advice for my imminent rappel, but I could barely catch the words through the roar of the wind even though we were barely two feet apart.
I had just stepped over the edge and promptly got my carabiner stuck on the rappel chain link, so I struggled to get my weight off the rappel chains so I could unclip my carabiner and start down. As I was struggling, a NOLS instructor was ascending up his ropes which were anchored next to the chains. He greeted me cheerily as if it were perfectly normal conditions, which comforted me a bit.
The rappel was overhanding but jutted out at the bottom, so I couldn't really see what was down below or how far I had to go. All I knew was that there was a lot of open space between me and the ground. I slowly started lowering myself, but the rope below billowed out to the left I couldn't slip it through the rappel device easily. I started to spin like a ragdoll as often happens on an overhanging rappel. Finally, in desperation to keep the rope from escaping, I wrapped my legs around the rope. This helped me stop spinning and made me feel like the rope wasn't going to blow away.
The climb, called Moby Dick and although quite enjoyable, paled in comparison to the adventure on the descent.
West Cochise Stronghold is notorious for strong winds, especially in the winter time. So if you'd like to have such an adventure, I believe the conditions are often ripe for wind there and would be easy enough to recreate. All you have to do is show up and climb!
The West Stronghold is extremely beautiful though, and there's loads of interesting climbing and adventure to be had. One morning I woke up to this lovely moon setting over the mountains right outside our window.

Our Adventures Chapter 3: by Mike

Granite Mountain
So on our way across the bleak desert landscape and alkaline flats we stop to see if we might pick a couple nice pairs of shoes from the rare though flourishing Shoe Tree (right). Though there was nothing that suited our size or fancy I thought we might stop up the road at the Underwear Tree (I was guessing there must be one further on), Marin was skeptical. Well, sure enough not another mile or so up the road there it was and while not as mature as the Shoe Tree, it appeared to be fruiting well and with good variety. We thought it wise not to linger here and moved on our way satisfied in our assessment that “You have to be one shoe shy of a pair to be living in the desert around Amboy, CA.

We arrived in Chino Valley, AZ (near Prescott) and mooched a patch of dirt to park our Kontiki with some old friends of mine, Chris and Janice Dunn. We arrived in the evening, set up and visited with Janice (Chris was in Vegas) before racking out. The following day Marin discovered her purse missing - though logic did once again prevail and it was tracked to our burger stop at Topock, AZ, not far the AZ side from Needles, CA. (about a three hour drive). I was on it! Dashing madly to gather her purse and return to Chino in time for BBQ’d elk. Prior to my departure, Janice, while dancing about with their two lovely daughters sprain her ankle and was hobbled pretty effectively. While I drove hard to Topock and back and though missing dinner did scarf down some great elk burgers and a couple beers. Chris, knowing too much about me from our climbing days, told Marin an evenings worth of tall tales, truths and disreputable stories of younger days. Fortunately, I didn’t really have any explaining to do as it was so long ago it could all be attributed to the poor judgment of youth.

Granite Mountain was every bit as imposing as I remembered. Stiff, very stiff, grades on beautiful and very climbable granite. Once Marin caught her stride she and I managed a number of outstanding routes. The highlights included Coatimundi Whiteout to Candyland finish 5.9 (above), Chu Hoi 5.9 (below) and Marin’s bold leads on all pitches of Falling Ross 5.10d (5.11 anywhere else). The climbing weather became very up-and-down with several perfect days and several very windy, cool-cold days. Nights were quite cold consistently. It was clear we were head into winter weather patterns. Then the first big storm hit and we were graciously afforded lodging in Prescott with another old friend Brent Roberts, Denise and Brent’s two charming girls. We were fed very well and had a soothing soak in their hot tub (so sweet!). And, sadly determined to head south to the desert climbing near Phoenix.

Our Adventures Chapter 2: by Mike

Well, where were we now? Headed back to Yosemite I believe, and that we did. It was all a little disappointing though as we the weather was frequently marginal, our moods were a bit down and attitudes not the best (I think I was kind of stressed by the time in big cities and all. Anyway we didn’t get on the longer routes and actually left after having been there about a week.

Owens River Gorge
So we drove over Tuolumne and through Tioga Pass and onto Bishop, CA and prepared for a little sport climbing action at Owens River Gorge. While I was still stuck in a funk, Marin seemed to excel on the sport routes in The Gorge, firing many 5.10s. While I just could not get into the climbing there, I did hone my belaying skills rope handling for Marin.
The rock there in The Gorge was a volcanic tuff that, while looking like a choss heap (as most sport areas do to me anyway) it was in reality quite sound. And, the Gorge itself is quite an impressive feature…the hikes into the various sections were attention gitters. Though we met and saw climbers everyday it did not feel overly crowded though I can imagine popular areas sometimes feeling a little busy. This is I think were we first encountered “gang climbing”. See, you have your pairs or threesomes and a group of 8-12 people appear and never split into smaller groups, rather they all do the same one or two climbs and are often a little over stimulating. We would see this again in Joshua Tree, the next stop.

Joshua Tree National Park
Once a National Monument, Joshua Tree is now a National Park since, I believe, 2004. It is beginning to look like one too! More paved roads, paved parking lots, crowds (huge on the weekends), pay to get in, pay to camp and water you can buy for about fifty cents for roughly twelve gallons at the main entrance (have your jugs open and catch all you can while the water spills forth). Not having been here for roughly 25-years these were big changes to me (especially the crowds and roads with large paved parking lots). The Winnebago surfing still lives though…some things never change. Still beautiful too, especially in the evening (see the intro photo and the photo to the right).
Now, almost every evening as the sun approached its resting time near all people made a brief pilgrimage to their vista point. Some climbed high while others moved to the border of rock and desert. There was no wrong place to be at that time of day. It really was something to see so many people sharing those most inspiringly beautiful and quiet moments of the day. Sad to think though that the frequency and intensity of these most remarkable evening displays may have a great deal to do with the proximity to LA’s air pollution. I tried not to think about that too much.
We met several Australians and a number of Canadians along with some of the more local climbing crowd. We find that in large measure people are tending to keep to their own groups. We did though meet some very nice folks while there.
As for the climbing…well let me tell you a thing or two or three about that. The weekends were overrun with climbers and tourists (they're not pets you know!). The classics of the old days were rarely crowded and seemed harder than they used to be (Marin following Diamond Dogs 5.10 at left. The rock was as coarse and hard on the hands as it ever was. And, you can still wander for near the entire day looking for some routes (like in the Wonderland).
The weather was amazing and we were sorry to leave but thought we should get some climbing time in at Granite Mountain (near Prescott, AZ) before the run of good climbing weather and temperature turned the corner toward winter. That will come in Chapter Three which is on-belay and following quickly (if not immediately).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

East Cochise Stronghold

We decided to head further south, to the Dragoon Mountains, so called for the soldiers who were sent to hunt down the renegade Chiracahua Apaches. Cochise Stronghold, obviously, is named for the Apache warrior Cochise, as he was able to escape the US military by hiding out in the maze of valleys and mountains. It's also the pride of Arizona climbing, so great prized by southern Arizona climbers that only a few of the many routes done here are documented. The rest they leave up to your ingenuity to find or perhaps you can have your own adventure.
I decided to climb the route "Nightstalker" on Owl Rock (shown to the left). There are only 4 bolts on the entire route, which is a little sparse. I was able to get in some good gear and tie of 3 or 4 chickenheads to protect the rest of the route. It's a great route and I recommend it if you're in the area.
We only stayed in the east a few days because the sun went over the hill pretty early in the day which made for some cold late afternoons and nights. Now we are in the west, which has sun longer in the day and thus it's much warmer.