My road trip is over and I never even wrote in my blog.
Can you blame me? Who wants to sit and write about what they’re doing, when they could just be spending more time doing it?
Now that it’s over though, I’d thought I’d spend a little time and tell ya’ll about some of the highlights. And share a few pics to boot.
Unfortunately my camera went kaput on the trip, so I don’t have as many pics as I would like, so some of these pictures aren't mine. Besides the pics here, I do have some more from the trip, which you can view here.
Some of these are mine some are others, which I have noted.
On day one, Nurse Betty, (the name of my van or vambulance) tried to put a very early end to the trip by refusing to start about 3 hours away from Joshua Tree National Park. Tow #1 got me to a mechanic that figured out my starter rod had broke apart. It’s the little rod that runs down the steering column and pushes the ignition switch to start the engine. This is Nurse Betty.
In Jtree my muscles got used to climbing again ( I hadn’t climbed in almost 2 months). The first night and day saw intense winds that made 5.7’s feel like 5.10s. My fingers and hands got chewed up too, prompting my debut into the world of tape gloves (like you can see me wearing in this picture).
I mostly climbed easy routes, warming up to the awkward and hard climbing that Jtree has to offer.
After a week I moved onto Red Rocks. Only minutes outside Las Vegas it’s an interesting place to be, as you can climb all day in the wilderness, drive 5 minutes and get all the gambling and prostitution in that you want (not that I did any of that).
Here I ran into Angelo and Nikki, a couple from Santa Cruz, whom I had seen around the gym and rocks before, but never met. We camped and climbed together for about a week.
Here they are climbing sport routes in the Black Corridor of the Calico Hills, Red Rocks, NV.
They were also traveling to many of the places I did in a big white van, though not as cool as mine. It was nice to see some familiar faces and reminisce about Santa Cruz. I also met some other great people here, Josh, whom was only leading traditional climbing for a few months but was progressing really fast. I hope to meet up with ya in the future buddy! And Peter, from the former Yugoslavia, whom I traveled with for most of the rest of the trip.
The climbing at Red Rocks was a little friendlier than Jtree so the tape gloves came off and I led my first 5.10’s of the trip. Some routes that really stand out there were, Triassic Sands (5.10b), Wholesome Fullback (5.10a), Our Father (5.10d), Epinepherine (5.9), and Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10a)
When I first arrived there it rained and even snowed a little, which was quite disappointing because the only other time I was there we were rained out as well. Rained on twice in a row in a place that only gets several inches of rain a year. What luck! However, I liked it so much I stayed over two weeks getting myself kicked out of the campground for overstaying the limit.
Moving on, Peter and I drove to Zion National Park in Utah, only a few hours away. Zion was incredibly beautiful and serene. The Virgin River meanders slowly through beautiful chocolate, strawberry, lemon, vanilla, and orange sandstone walls 3-4,000 feet high. It’s kinda like a Yosemite of the desert.
Here I am hanging in a crack.
After the crowds of Red Rocks, Zion was a welcome change. Though there were a fair number of tourists it didn’t feel crowded, and we were of only a handful of climbers.
Most of the routes in Zion are longish (10-11 pitches or rope lengths) of hard aid climbing, which is what it is known for. For those that don’t know, aid climbing is getting up the rock any way you can. The rock is too difficult for most mortals to climb, so aid climbers are reduced to cheating by placing protection in tiny cracks, standing up high on a ladder made of webbing that is attached to their protection, putting in another piece of protection a little higher and repeating. However, there is also outstanding cragging (short 1-2 pitch routes) to be had. This is mostly what we did. The place has a reputation for being sandbagged and scary, hard ratings and soft stone, but I found it to be mostly spectacular rock and routes, sometimes a bit sandy and slippy, but generally amazing.
This is where we entered the land of pure crack climbing. Long, continuous cracks with little to no face holds. It is an altogether different type of climbing than what you find in most of the rest of the world. Instead of climbing what is there, your climbing what’s not there, shoving your hands and feet into the crack in whatever way works, the size of the crack dictating the difficulty of the route. It’s excellent!
The one long route we did, Touchstone 5.11- A1 (8 pitches) was incredible. A few easy aid pitches to start and then continuous cracks with everything from fingers to offwidth and chimney. On the way down, the rope got stuck, and Peter braved some sketchy climbing on super choss (loose rock) to get it down. I’d highly recommend rappelling the route, not the dirty descent gully if not many other parties are on the route.
Peter and I also met up with another climber who joined us on the adventure, Michael, from Oregon. On the first day with us he chose to lead a 5.10+. Neither Peter or I had been leading harder than 5.10 yet, so we were happy to let him give it a go so we could top rope it.
3/4 of the way up the route, Michael let out a yelp, and said we needed to lower him immediately. Not sure what had happened, Peter lowered him to find out he had dislocated his knee. He had shoved it into a wide crack, and when he went to move out of it, his knee stuck while the rest of his body kept going, and his knee moved sideways. Ooouuchh!
Luckily, it popped back into place right afterward and he was able to walk out. Michael recovered for the next several days and was climbing again in a little over a week.
I could have stayed in Zion for a long time, but Indian Creek was calling my name. Located 1 hour from Moab, Utah, Indian Creek is every crack climber’s wet dream.
After a short interlude at the beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park and an overnight backpack trip, we headed for The Creek.
Driving down Hwy 211 towards The Creek, I thought, doesn’t look like there is any good climbing around here, just rolling desert plains, sagebrush, and cacti. But then…
Indian Creek. Picture by Peter Beril.
The road winds down and around and drops you into the canyon. It slowly unfolds before you and reveals miles and miles of cliffs of the hardest sandstone, perched on top of scree piles for miles. And each cliff is lined with cracks of all shapes and sizes. With free camping, what more could you ask for?
We didn’t even hit up some of the ultra classics like Supercrack and Incredible Hand Crack, everything else seemed just as good and less crowded. There is so much there that is still being developed, and so much that isn’t cataloged so hardly gets climbed. One of the best routes we did was listed in the guide book as an unknown and unnamed 5.10.
And then there are the towers. Desert towers, are a game in themselves. Standing like desert temples, they just call out to be climbed. But they do not submit easily. My favorite climb on the entire trip was my first tower. Lightning Bolt Cracks (5.11-) on North Six Shooter, that saw me fall several times, but persist I did. Luckily it was clear that day, and the route didn’t live up to its name.
The North Six Shooter
Picture by Peter Beril.Others we climbed had names like Sister Superior, Jah’ Man (5.10c), Castelton Tower, North Chimney (5.9), Ancient Art, Stolen Chimney (5.10d), and Washer Woman Arch, In Search of Suds (5.11-). Each was unique, the most so being Washer Woman Arch. I won’t forget rappelling through that arch for a long time. Ancient also was also really different. Part of the Fisher Towers, they are basically solidified mud, forming amazing shapes. Some of these towers look terrifying to climb on, as they seem balanced precariously and ready to fall apart. Ancient Art had surprisingly solid rock, a corkscrew shaped summit block, with the actual summit about the size of a pizza box! Looking up at our ropes dangling through the arch. Picture by Michael Decker. The crazy summit pitch of Ancient Art, picture by Peter Beril.
About this time, Nurse Betty decided to have her second nervous breakdown of the trip. We had her all strapped down, river raft on top, getting ready to float a section of the Colorado River, when she refused to start, Again! Investigation by Peter (a genius electrical engineer) and I suspected a broken solenoid, but there was nothing we could do. So, tow #2 brought me into Moab to figure it out. A mechanic confirmed our suspicion and the next day I was rolling again.
Peter left Michael and I to go receive a friend arriving in San Francisco, and Michael and I decided to head to Joe’s Valley, Utah for a change of pace with a few days of bouldering.
However, when we arrived, Nurse Betty made an awful hissing and sputtering sound. I opened the hood to find radiator coolant spewing about. After much investigation I found the broken hose and was able to pry it off. No easy feat, as these vans are notoriously difficult to access the engine as everything is packed into a tiny space. Michael gave me a ride into town where I got a new hose, just before the auto shop closed. I replaced it and was good to go again, but not before the heavens opened up and it rained for most of the night and into the morning.
With the fragile sandstone boulders not likely to dry in the next day or two, we decided to head back to California, to the beautiful boulders called the Buttermilks, in Bishop.
A 12 hour drive through endless sagebrush plains, salt flats, and ranch land, in short some of the most desolate country I’ve been in, finally brought us back to sunny California.
I arrived before Michael as he had stopped to observe some culture, in the form of what he thought was going to be a demolition derby, but was actually just a race of junky cars spinning endlessly around a dusty 1/2 mile track.
This was just outside the town of Tonopah, Neveda, who claim to be the number one stargazing destination in America (I doubt it). It was an odd mixture of old west and tacky Americana, with tumbleweeds on Main street, abandoned old hotels, punk kids, garish gambling joints, and cowboys.
So, when I got to Bishop I went a lookin’ for some free camping near the boulders. I found some, but feeling adventurous I kept driving on the sandy dirt roads looking for something a little nicer and more secluded. I started down one side road and stopped shortly when it looked like the road went down and up quite steeply and decided I didn’t want to go any further. I backed up, but visibility in Nurse Betty is quite poor and I got a little off track, and suddenly I was no longer moving but spinning in place. Damn! My right rear wheel was about a foot deep in sand. The shovel I found was making itself useful (someone in Zion had mysteriously left it leaning against the van), as I dug out the wheel and placed rocks and wood underneath. I tried again, but it just pushed those rocks deeper into the sand. Realizing I needed some help to free the behemoth nurse, I gave up for the night and went to sleep.
The following morning I enlisted the help of some fellow climbers with a 4X4 and had them pull me out. Yay!
I wished my camera wasn’t broken when I arrived at the Buttermilks that morning. The boulders are as large as houses, 60-80 feet tall and hundreds of feet in diameter. Bulletproof granite, the high sierra for a backdrop, and a full range of difficulty from easy to ridiculously hard makes them very popular. On some of them, the insides are eroded away making them look like the insides of giant honeycombs. After climbing some of them and looking around on top for a bit, the realization comes that you must get down some how. More often than not after looking for the easiest way down I ended up down climbing the same way I came up. I realized the boulder problems I was doing must be the easiest ones, as they also seemed to be the descent route. Many of these tall boulders cross the line from bouldering into free soloing and some very brave individuals are pushing these lines hard. Today, I stick to the smaller boulders, only 20-30 feet high!
Michael trying on a highball.
After one day here, Michael and I make plans to move into Yosemite Valley, after all, bouldering is for whimps, and long traditional routes are where it’s at, right!
However, after some clarification on which day of the month it is (after two months on the road, the date and day of the week kinda get fuzzy) we realize the following day is Memorial Day, which would be one of the most crowded days to be in the Valley.
We opt to do a climb in the High Sierra called Sun Ribbon Arete (5.10a), on Temple Crag. At eighteen pitches and requiring a 6 mile approach, this is the longest day I’ve had on the rock.
We set up a base camp at the aptly named 3rd lake near the base of the route. The guidebook had warned us that crampons would be necessary for the snow bank leading up to the route in the early season. We lacked these toothed devices, no problem though. That afternoon we hiked up to the base of the mountain to kick steps into the now soft snow, which had been warmed by the afternoon sun. In the morning it would be frozen solid and slippery as glass, otherwise making an ascent impossible without crampons.
Temple Crag. picture by Michael Decker.
I’ll admit now, that hiking up that snow bank intimidated me more than the whole rest of the climb. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia I haven’t been in the snow all that much, and that snow field seemed really steep and looked as if I would fall down it and slide all the way back into the rocks at the bottom. In reality it proved to be easy. I just wasn’t use to doing it, that’s all. Of course when we up there, even though minutes before it was sunny, it started to snow quite hard, which just added to the excitement. It didn’t last though, and in less than hour we were back it camp to eat dinner and go to bed early in preparation for our 5am start the next day.
The climb was mostly easy 5.7 and 4th class, which we simul-climbed (moving together on the rope instead of stopping to belay). After 8 or so pitches of this we reached one of the highlights of the route, a tyrolean traverse ( see the picture at top). The route follows a knife edge ridge for the length of the climb and at this point the ridge dropped away on all sides, leaving a gap of 20 feet to where it started again. You could choose to down climb or rappel to a notch and climb up the other side again, but what fun would that be. Instead we lassoed a horn (block of rock sticking up) on the other side, pulled the rope taught as best we could and slithered across the rope, hand over hand, upside down. Great fun!
The second highlight came at the crux of the route, a 5.9 and 5.10 hand crack with a delicate traverse. I got the honor of leading this bit, but Michael got to follow it with snow when a storm moved in for a brief while.
Much more simul-climbing finally led us to the summit where we were rewarded with expansive views of the Palisade Range. After lingering a bit, we headed down the easy descent and glissaded down a few snow slopes back to camp, an hour or so before dark.
Traversing somewhere on the route.
After hiking out the next day it was finally time to go to Yosemite. This was Michael’s first trip there, and it is something akin for climbers what it is for a Muslim to visit Mecca. And I imagine Yosemite Valley in the summer is as crowded as Mecca is in the heart of pilgrimage season.
Camp 4 being full, we were forced to stealth camp, and in the morning I awoke to a bear cub not 20 feet away, looking at me curiously. When I arose it got to running, and I got up pretty quick too.
With my money dwindling and no one calling me to work for them I went into the employment office of the Delaware North Company or DNC. They run all the concessions in the Valley from raft rental to golf shoes. Alas, all the jobs were taken for the summer, (I didn’t really want to work there anyway) so we went climbing. A few thunderstorms in the afternoon limited us to short climbs, but it was great to be back on the great stone that is El Capitan.
I had to leave that evening, as I was flying out to Atlanta for a friends wedding. Congrats Scott! Scott is also on his way to Afghanistan, and I wish him all the best, and a safe return.
That about wraps it up.
I’m back in Santa Cruz for some months to make $$, catch up with friends, and plan the next trip. I'm thinking about Colorado, driving across the U.S., New York, the Southeast, and Mexico.
If anyone wants to by an awesome ambulance van named Nurse Betty that runs for free on used vegetable oil let me know. I know I haven’t made her sound so good, but she really is a great vehicle for traveling, she can just be a bit quirky, but who doesn’t love that in a vehicle, right…
It was a great trip, and besides doing some amazing climbs, meeting some really cool people, I also learned a lot about myself.
Feel free to comment, say hey, or do anything else you want.
Until next time.