Whenever I tell someone that I’m a rock climber, odds are that they will ask me at least one of the following questions:

  • You hammer those things into the wall right?
  • Are there ropes setup for you to use?
  • Have you climbed El Capitan?

Let me just say, I really love these questions. They remind me that most people have a pretty limited idea of how we climb these rock faces, yet so many of them seem somewhat fascinated by it. It’s fun to see the look in their face when I tell them that pitons, those things that climbers hammer into the wall, started to quickly fade from the climbing scene in the late 60′s and today the vast majority of climbers have never even driven one, including me. I then go on to describe what we use for protection today and why. Along the way, any notions of fixed ropes being used on all these routes is also dispelled. About this time it’s obvious that a lot of people have a hard time getting their mind around the notion that this is something I do for fun.

But then there is the dreaded question… “have you ever climbed El Capitan?” Sadly, this is where I feel I let them down when answering, “no”. The reason for this is somewhat nuanced and hard to describe to someone who isn’t familiar with the various styles of climbing. But the short version is that I’ve been a touch close minded towards the style of climbing that it takes to climb El Cap, that style being aid climbing.

This changed a couple weeks ago when Rob asked me if I’d like to get on the Salathé Wall, one of the most historic and classic climbing routes on El Capitan. In fact, it’s reputation extends beyond Yosemite and is generally regarded as one of the best climbs in the world. After an evening of contemplation I replied, to a bit of my surprise, with an overwhelming yes. Even though climbing on El Cap was nowhere near my tick list the day prior, in a matter of a few hours I couldn’t imagine the list without it.

This is going to be a pretty new experience for me and I’m really excited to see how it treats me. I’ve never slept on a wall. I’ve never hauled a hundred pounds of food, water and shelter up a route. I’ve never pooped into a bag and hauled it around with me for a few days. But most exciting, I’ve never fully been able to grasp just how big El Capitan is. I can imagine things going really well and completely falling in love with it. I can also imagine things being pretty miserable… and still falling in love with it. Outside of that, I’m going to keep my imagination in check.

If you’re interested in following along with our progress and maybe even seeing some pictures of us on the wall, Tom Evans posts photos and commentary on his appropriately named El Cap Reports website on a very regular basis. We’ll be a party of three on the Salathé Wall. Keep a look out for us in the commentary and if you happen to be in Yosemite Valley swing by the El Cap meadows after sunset and play a little flashlight tag with us.

Our general plan is to climb the first 11 pitches up to the Heart Ledges this Wednesday the 25th. We’ll then use some fixed ropes to head back to the ground and sleep at the base Wednesday night. Early Thursday morning we’ll ascend the fixed ropes back up to the Heart Ledges and continue on to spend our first night on top of El Cap Spire, 20 pitches off the ground (the average pitch length is 100 feet). Friday will likely be the longest and hardest part of the climb as it involves negotiating the Salathé Headwall. Given the intense climbing in this section, we’ll likely spend Friday night on the Long Ledge a handful of pitches below the summit. Wake up Saturday morning, finish the route and hike back down to the valley floor.

I’m including a stripped down topo map of the climb to follow along with if you like. Given the length of the route the topo is a little small, but clicking on it will reveal more detail.

Salathé Topo

Salathé Topo

Alpine Sirens

December 3, 2012

Every day that I’m out climbing is a memorable one… some more than others. However, the remote alpine climbs tend to leave the biggest impressions. Maybe it’s because they are in amazingly beautiful places. Maybe it’s because they offer big, humbling rock faces to ascend. Maybe the extra work required to just get to the base offers up an extra reward. One thing is for sure, all of these factors can combine to produce a modern day siren song.

Recently Rob and I joined another party to do some climbing on The Incredible Hulk. Thankfully we managed to resist the call of the siren, but the other two in our party had a different experience. Finishing their route at sunset, in the rain, at 11,000′, with threats of lightning and a 5 mile hike out that night; they seemed to be creating memories that they would rather not have. While their story is not for me to tell, I too have been seduced by the alpine sirens and their epic reminded me of my own… which happened almost exactly two years earlier (off by two days).

My epic took place on the Southeast face of Clyde Minaret. In the weeks since, I don’t think a single one has gone by where I haven’t had a thought or memory that’s somehow connected to Clyde. Some of the memories make my toes tingle in delight, others make me question myself and one thought gives me a good deal of comfort.

Toe Tingling Delight


Tucked away 8 miles inside the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Clyde Minaret and the surrounding area perfectly defines beauty. The rugged and inhospitable nature of the Minarets is in such contrast to the green trees and remarkably blue lakes. Connecting the lakes are wonderful cascading streams and a network of meadows. Slowly gaining in elevation up to Cecile Lake at the base of the Minarets, snow fields give a true feeling of being high up in the mountains. The lack of bridges, railings, formal trails and other things to keep humans “safe” gives me a trace feeling that I belong there but also reminds me that I don’t.

On this trip, these are the sights that got me through the tough times. These are the sights that I now dream of. These are the sights that make my toes tingle with delight.

Ritter and Banner from Shadow Lake

Ritter and Banner from Shadow Lake

Minarets from Iceberg Lake

Minarets from Iceberg Lake

Snow field around Iceberg Lake

Snow field around Iceberg Lake

Setting the Stage


The alpine environment can quickly change on you and there are some important details here that I should fill in.

The weather forecast for this trip wasn’t the greatest. Seems like there is always a slight chance of rain in the Sierra’s, but the forecast was showing the chance of precipitation building up to 70% for the day of our climb. We rolled into the Mammoth Lakes area around noon, got our permit, some lunch and hung out in town. Around 2pm a storm rolled through bringing some rain with it. Nothing major so we stayed on course to hike in the following day.

On the hike in, I was clearly preparing my mind for an uncomfortable situation. I was finding landmarks inside the first mile and wondering how happy/relieved I’ll feel on the hike out to see them again. At the same time, I was also reminding myself of some research that showed how fake/forced smiles can greatly increase your mood and the mood of those around you… I had a feeling this technique could come in handy.

That said, the conditions in the morning for our hike in were spectacular. Blue skies, no wind and a wonderful temperature. We got to our campsite around noon, got setup and went up to scope out the base of our route. Around 1pm, the winds really picked up and a storm like the day prior blew in. However, due to being above 10,000′ the rain that we had the day before was more of a sleet/hail combination. Fun.

With the chance of precipitation increasing for the next day (the day of our climb), I was figuring that we should aim to be off the summit by noon. Given that we had 12 pitches of climbing to get there, an alpine start was in order and things would have to go pretty smoothly to fit into our tight window. But they didn’t… shocker.

We got a good start but I botched the route finding on the fourth pitch, wasting an hour of precious time. A couple pitches later, being only halfway through the route I heard the first claps of thunder. Half a pitch later, it was sleeting on us. As the heavier clouds moved above us quickly, the sleet didn’t last for longer than 10 minutes. We pressed on, my level of discomfort was growing yet I shamefully said nothing.

The next few pitches of climbing are kind of a blur to me. I remember a very jarring start to the next pitch that I lead and can now clearly see in the topo that I took the path labeled “no!”. Managed to get through it but was apparently so rhythmic and focused that I didn’t pay much attention to things beyond how much rope I had left and a window of about three moves in front of me. That level of focus was quite pleasurable, the conditions outside of that focus were not.

Finally we made it to the end of the harder climbing and onto the summit ridge. With only a few hundred feet of climbing left I started to get a sense of relief despite the fact that periodic clouds continued to shower us with sleet/hail and that the wind was making communication beyond 10 feet challenging at best. Leading the second to last pitch I stopped on a nice ledge to place some gear and do some route finding. During this time my focus relaxed enough to notice a very prominant buzzing sound emanating from all around me. It was like being in the middle of a bee hive and it took me a moment to figure out what was going on… conclusion: lightning was on the edge of striking.

Questioning Myself


Let’s pause here in the story for a moment as those events really forced me to question who I am, what I’m doing and why. It’s clear now that I was having doubts about this climb before we even left the car. But why wasn’t I direct in expressing them?  When the conditions deteriorated while on route, why did I not insist on bailing and getting back to the ground? Are the guidelines I put in place for myself after my last climbing accident at all effective or just bullshit? How far am I willing to go in order to make someone else happy?

I have answers to these questions that I’m constantly refining and using to learn more about hidden parts of my personality, which is fantastic for me. But my answers are all rather personal and it’s doubtful that they would apply to others so I’ll be keeping them to myself. However, I do think there are a couple universal lessons and things to think about before embarking on any (ad)venture.

One problem that Ben and I had on this trip was an unaligned and non-communicated tolerance for risk. The two of us get along so well and see things in strikingly similar fashion that I don’t think it occurred to us that we would be on different pages regarding risk. Beyond climbing this same issue seems to crop up in all types of interactions, from business partners to life partners. When risk tolerance is aligned, you’ll be completing each other sentences. When they aren’t aligned but communicated, each person has a better ability to empathize without guessing. The challenge seems to be having the comfort and confidence to talk about it beforehand.

Somewhat related, but more of an internal lesson for me was recognizing not only my biases and preconceived notions but the consequences of them. Frequently it’s easier to have a decision making framework or to hold ideas to be true in all situations. That can work well enough for really simple things like “always look where you’re going”, but generally fails with anything sufficiently meaningful.

The result of this is that I’ve learned a great deal about myself. I’ve found that parts of my personality can be healthy and virtuous in one setting while unhealthy and dangerous in another. This is one of the unexpected dimensions of alpine climbing that I think it’s hard to recognize until you do it. While the alpine sirens draw you in and can make you blind to the danger, they can be a great vehicle for personal insight.

A Comforting Thought


Okay, back to the ledge…

In case it isn’t obvious, being a couple hundred feet from the summit of the largest peak in the nearby area while it’s buzzing with static discharge isn’t exactly the best place to be. So I took a moment to consider my options. I contemplated down climbing back to Ben at the last belay but didn’t know how much rope I had left. I didn’t feel like going any higher, that’s for sure. So I built an anchor, sat on the ledge and decided to wait and see what would happen. Given the winds I sadly couldn’t communicate this decision to Ben so he would have to remain in the dark for the time being.

While sitting on the ledge I found my state of mind to be pleasantly surprising. There was very little that I could do in the situation and I had to accept the choices and events that got me there. What’s surprising is that I didn’t feel one bit sorry for myself. I didn’t even feel worried or scared. After all, I was sitting on a really comfortable ledge in the most beautiful place I’d ever been. But the reality of the situation was far from absent in my thoughts. At one point I realized that although I was physically comfortable, that comfort would likely end the moment enough static potential built up for lighting to jump the gap. It’s difficult to say this now, but at that moment I was okay with it.

Thinking about that situation now still makes my hands shake a bit and is nothing that I want to go through again. However, the fact that I can be in a situation where I can literally hear death around the corner, yet remain calm and still smile about it is tremendously comforting.

Storms approaching with slight breaks between

Storms approaching with slight breaks between

Eventually the buzzing stopped, we made it to the top, signed the summit registry and started the (very challenging and stressful) descent. We continued to experience intermittent sleet and hail along with constant winds. In the Clyde-Ken couloir we could see that the scree at the base was just below us but the ice in the couloir made getting there slow, challenging, wet and cold. With one final rap off some sketchy fixed gear, I’ve never been happier to be on scree in my life.

As we were getting back to camp the sun was setting. We decided that we should pack up our camp and move it to the other side of the snow and ice that surrounded Iceberg Lake as it would be frozen in the morning and nearly impossible to travel across without crampons. I was feeling a bit rattled by the events of the day and kind of just wanted to be back at the car. But Ben talked me into stopping a bit below Ediza Lake, setting up camp again and having some dinner.

The next morning we finished the hike back to the car and made our way to Mammoth Lakes, stopping at the scenic overlook where the Minarets are displayed beautifully in the distance. At the overlook we ran into Heather Schneider, wife of Steve Schneider (both of them are well respected and very accomplished climbers). Apparently we looked the part as she asked us where we were climbing. With a bit of pride we told her that we’d climbed Clyde the day before. She complemented us on a “bold ascent” given the weather conditions. This was and still is quite a complement coming from her, but there is a fine line between bold and stupid.

I’m reluctant to write about this flaming topic so let me just get the tired bit out of the way first: iOS 6 Maps could be better, they will get better, blah blah blah.

I have opinions regarding the new maps in iOS 6 but given that very few people care about my opinion on the matter (rightly so), I’m going to share an idea instead. Granted, about as many people care about my ideas as do my opinions; but ideas are aimed at solving a problem while opinions are at best aimed at starting a discussion and at worst an argument.

Enough of the argument, here’s an idea!

When I saw that Apple was building it’s own mapping technology and no longer basing the maps in iOS off of Google Maps, my first thought was: I’ll be really disappointed if Mountain Lion doesn’t include a mapping SDK. Well shit, I’m disappointed Mountain Lion is indeed missing maps. You may be saying to yourself, who cares about maps in Mac OS X!

Personally, I’m desperately craving a native mapping application for the Mac. For being a web app Google Maps is quite amazing, but it’s also quite lacking as it doesn’t integrate into any other aspect of the operating system. Imagine if the only maps on your phone were found in a browser? That would seriously suck! And that’s exactly what we have in OS X and it indeed does suck. But beyond how awesome this would be to have in OS X, it truly could have helped the new version of Maps in iOS 6. Here’s what I’m thinking.

One of the central difficulties with building a mapping solution is data. Google has a ton of data backing their maps, data that we have all given them over years of heavy usage. Apple does not have this historical data yet, but they could have started collecting it earlier. By releasing an OS X Maps app before the release of iOS 6 they could have vetted their maps a bit with end user usage, praise and complaints.

About 7 months before iOS 6 was released, Apple started using their maps in the iPhoto for iOS app. So it really was no secret that Apple was cooking up an in house mapping solution. What if they had released an OS X map app around the same time? Because there is no existing app in OS X users would not be up in arms over the quality of the maps in that environment. It’s the replacement of the maps in iOS 6 that has some users worried. This is one of the only areas where OS X doesn’t have the pain of legacy so it would have made a wonderful vehicle to help build and vet issues with their maps.

Alas this is not what Apple chose to do. Perhaps they didn’t think of it… doubtful. Perhaps they didn’t have time… maybe, but this is clearly very important to them so I think they would have found the time. Perhaps they wanted to keep things under wraps a bit longer… seemingly not unlike Apple to do so, but if that truly were the case they probably wouldn’t have included them in iPhoto. Perhaps these things are far more complicated than any outsider can accurately speculate over… almost definitely. But just maybe they too were a bit reluctant… I hope not.

Cathedral Concert

September 17, 2011

Cathedral peak shadow

Cathedral casts its shadow on Tuolumne

Almost 142 years ago to the day John Muir completed the first documented ascent of Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne. Writing about this experience Muir stated:

This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened… the sweetest church music I ever enjoyed.

I can’t say that my experience ascending Cathedral Peak for the second time was on par with Muir’s first. For starters I didn’t do it in cowboy boots. But I can say that I’ve never been to an actual church in California. I can also say that years of fortunate experiences have allowed me to enjoy being on top of such spectacular summits. However, it’s the music and the company that made this trip especially enjoyable.

The day after Ben and I linked up Royal Arches and North Dome we wanted to repay Linda, Marzena and Jill for graciously picking us up at the end of that adventure. Marzena and Jill had never been up Cathedral Peak so the prospect of sharing such a special climb with them was highly appealing. However, we awoke to a rather cloudy morning and this made for a pretty lazy start to the day so it’s not surprising that we found ourselves at the trailhead organizing gear and getting ready to hike to the base around noon.

By this point the clouds had started to break and the sky was mostly blue during the approach. I think everyone (except for Marzena) was feeling a bit tired so it was roughly 2 when we reached the leftmost route up the face. Just as we started to flake the ropes a brief period of rain struck. It only lasted for a few moments and by the time we got our rain gear on it had past. But the event was enough to make us consider if it was wise to start the route. A bit of deliberation later Linda decided that since she’d been on the route before the prospect of doing it again and potentially getting rained on wasn’t too appealing.

Feeling (perhaps foolishly hoping) that the weather would hold and seeing the desire that Marzena and Jill had to do the climb I decided that I was game to lead the first pitch. We were initially going to ascend with me leading and Jill seconding on my rope while Ben would lead on doubles for Linda and Marzena to follow. But now that we were a party of 4, we decided that just having one leader would be the easiest way to go.

Racked up with a set of nuts, a single set of cams from #0.5 to #2 and 4 tri-cams I picked a line for the first pitch and ran up it until I was out of rope. Ben followed trailing the two doubles for Marzena and Jill. Ben lead the next pitch and aside from managing three ropes at the belay the climb was going well, especially because the rain hadn’t returned.

For the start of the third pitch we were just below the chimney section. This is typically where the many routes up the face meet and get funneled into a single stream of climbers. So I wasn’t surprised to see at least one party waiting to get through the section. However, Cathedral Peak is very featured and we’d read of variations to the left and right of the chimney that can be used to alleviate the congestion. No better time than now to try them.

Here’s the variation that we took. On the very lefthand side of the ledge below the chimney pitch (typically the ledge that people belay from for the chimney pitch), go straight up for around 15-20 feet of very easy climbing. You’ll find yourself in a bit of a small corner with a fantastic hole in the granite that can be girth hitched. Up and left of the girth hitch there is a finger sized crack that leads out to an arête on the left. Keep your hands in this crack and move out to the very well featured and protectable arête. It isn’t obvious that there is anything out to the left to climb, but trust me, there is and the mysterious feeling adds to the adventure. From here you can continue straight up towards the summit, bypassing all the groaning and struggling parties in the chimney. At a rating of 5.7 and featuring some fantastic exposure, I can’t recommend it enough.

After that section the rest of our route was pretty typical climbing for an afternoon on Cathedral. I got to the summit blocks and waited for some traffic to clear before making the final push to the top. As I waited, two free soloists came marching up the rock, one carrying a banjo and the other a guitar. Immediately I began to smile, hoping that we’d get to hang out as a group on the top and enjoy a world class view with some accompanying music.

The music begins as I wait for a party to clear the summit blocks

The music begins as we wait for a party to clear the summit blocks

After a short wait I brought Ben up to the party and he gave Marzena and Jill a belay while I shot some video of the music scene. Once we were all on top I couldn’t help but feel extremely fortunate. Not only did the rain stay away, it was sunny and beautiful. The climbing ended up being more enjoyable than I had even remembered. Plus I got to share a summit that is always incredible with three people that I am fortunate to have in my life. Add into that the mood that the music set and it’s a day that can’t be repeated.

We ended up sitting on the summit for almost an hour, soaking up the sights and enjoying the music. I can’t thank everyone enough for making that one of the more memorable and enjoyable hours that I’ve had. The only bummer of the day was that Linda didn’t get to experience it with us. However, I did manage to get a couple videos where the wind didn’t totally destroy the audio. I’ve posted them below along with a couple other photos from the day.

 

 

Marzena Enjoying the Summit

Marzena enjoying the summit

 

The four of us on the summit

The four of us on the summit

For all of you who love statistics, I won’t make you wait for them:

  • 4000′ of elevation gain
  • 26 pitches climbed
  • 16 miles of hitchhiking
  • 13 hours of almost non-stop work
  • 8 literes of water per person
  • 6.3 miles of hiking
  • 2 routes completed
  • 1 more of the 50 classics ticked

Okay, now for all of you who don’t have ADD or Aspergers.

Almost two years ago on my first climbing trip to Yosemite Valley Ben and I shared a Camp 4 site with a couple guys named Hector and Doug. One night at camp we were all talking about what we had climbed that day, Hector and Doug mentioned that they had climbed the South Face of North Dome (5.8). I looked in the SuperTopo climbing book to get a better feel for how they spent their day and was immediately impressed.

North Dome is 8 pitches long and features just over 1100′ of climbing. At a rating of 5.8 the route is quite moderate, but when the approach is factored into the climb it becomes substantially harder. Typically the first step is to hike all the way out of Yosemite Valley, for most Americans this step alone is beyond comprehension and ability. The approach is so much work that SuperTopo suggests that it can take up to 6 hours. That’s 6 hours of hard work for a fairly fit person before starting on a climb that takes roughly another 6 hours to complete. I must be getting old because this didn’t seem too appealing to me at the time.

But then at the beginning of this season Ben and I were talking about how we really need to do Royal Arches, especially given that it’s one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. But the thought of doing the legendarily epic-inducing descent was rather unappealing. Then it hit me… why not make the descent worth it by climbing North Dome while we were up there! Then an even better idea struck me… climb Royal Arches, hike over to and climb North Dome and then walk off the backside into Tuolumne! By walking off the backside of North Dome into Tuolumne we could avoid the descent completely and life would be grand.

So we had a… complicated dream. The general problem is that we’d end our day many miles away from where we started and therefore could use a little bit of outside help to make it happen. Here’s the plan we came up with.

On Thursday August 25th Ben and I drove up to Yosemite and camped for the night in the forest service land just outside of the park on Evergreen Road. On Friday we’d wake up at 5am, pack up our stuff, grab some food and head into the park. We’d leave my car at a pullout near Crane Flat (point A on the map below). Later in the day Ben’s wife Linda along with our friends Marzena and Jill would pick up my car at Crane Flat and then we’d meet them along highway 120 before enjoying a weekend of climbing in Tuolumne. To span the 16 miles that separated my car and the start of Royal Arches (roughly point B on the map below) we needed to hitch a ride into the valley. If that proved successful, we’d climb Royal Arches, hike a mile over to the base of North Dome, climb South Face on North Dome and lastly hike from the top of North Dome back to highway 120 to meet the ladies at the Porcupine Creek trailhead (marked with the green arrow on the map). Our plan was to meet at 8 but Ben and I figured that 9 was a bit more likely.

Map showing the logistics of our plan

Point A is where we left my car, point B is where we needed a ride to and the green arrow is where we were to be picked up (click to enlarge)

So at 6am, while listening to a dog either having sex or being eaten by a bear, Ben and I started to realize that there wasn’t too many people going to the valley at this time of day. But sure enough, the very first car to drive by gave us a lift. We couldn’t believe how easy it was.

The car that picked us up had three Bay Area folks that were planning on hiking Half Dome that day. Two of them had never been to Yosemite and the third had only been once. It’s always fantastic to see the reaction that people have when entering Yosemite Valley for the first time. The contrast between their first time in the park and the adventure that we were about to embark on really set a fantastic tone for the day. Sharing some knowledge about the valley, answering questions that they had, giving directions and even telling them where to park. It simply felt good to think about when I was in their shoes vs where I’m at now, to help them have a successful adventure just as they were helping us.

We parted ways at the parking lot, each of us heading to a different side of the valley. Before getting on the route Ben and I stopped in the Ahwahnee to use the bathroom and grab a small second breakfast. When we got to the base of the route and racked up it was 8am, exactly the time we had hoped to begin.

The start of the route was rather jarring. We had hoped to be able to simul climb the majority of Royal Arches but the route begins with a very slick chimney so we figured that we’d play it safe and start the simul climbing after the first pitch. After three pitches of easy 3rd and 4th class we got to the start of the 5th pitch and found a party of three going up the 5.7 fingers section. We didn’t have time to get stuck behind another party so I picked another line and proceeded to take us up, skirting around them.

Another 5 pitches of simul climbing and we were at the well known pendulum swing. Royal Arches is rated at 5.10b because of the moves to get across this fairly blank but short section of rock. But instead of freeing the route, most parties use the fixed rope that’s at this point to swing past it, making the route a 5.7 A0. I had intended to do the same, but when I got there something inside me wanted to do the moves and free the route. With a touch of trepidation I started to move away from the security of the cracks and onto the face. I had found some very small edges (about the thickness of a nickel), one for my left foot and a couple for my fingernails. I slowly moved onto them, easing my weight onto my left foot and hoping that it would stay put. Found a nicer left hand further out, stepped through with my right foot, stood up and bam, I was hanging onto the ledge on the other side. Ben followed in good form and we both laughed somewhat uncontrollably, proud of ourselves for being bold enough to try and confident enough to execute.

Ben on the 10b crux of Royal Arches

Ben on the 10b crux of Royal Arches

After this section the climbing turned easy again for a pitch. I then made a bit of a mistake. Instead of continuing along this ledge to the very leftmost side, I went up what appeared to be a well worn gully. It wasn’t. Turns out that it wasn’t climbers that had made the rock look worn, it was water. After two pitches climbing up this mungy and hard to protect gully I decided that we should rap down to the ledge and get ourselves back on route.

Back down on the ledge I figured out where I went wrong and got us back on track. Another 6 pitches of simul climbing and we reached the end of the route. Our little off route adventure ended up costing us about an hour so when we sat down for some food it was right about noon. At the top of the route there is thankfully a fantastic little spring. It was so incredibly hot that both Ben and I had burned the two liters that we each had with us. We had planned on refilling our water here but hadn’t planned on being so thirsty. Given the nature of the spring, we decided to chance it and put down a couple more liters each without treating it. It was a risk, but we needed the water pretty badly.

After about an hour of hydrating, eating and cooling off we started the hike up to North Dome. We had expected this part of the day to go by pretty easily, but it ended up being a lot of work. SuperTopo claimed that it was just under a mile of hiking and gained 500 feet, no big deal. Turns out that the distance was about right but it gains about twice as much elevation. We had anticipated this part to take us about a half hour but it ended up being double that. This put us at the start of South Face at around 2pm.

Given that the climb on North Dome was far more sustained with an overall harder rating and that we’d already done a good amount of climbing, we decided to pitch the climb out. I took the first pitch and when I setup the anchor after a full 200 feet of climbing (I actually linked the first and second pitch together) I felt exhausted. The entire time I was belaying Ben I was thinking about how nice it was going to be to have him lead the next pitch. But then when he got up to the belay said that he thought we should lead in blocks. Shit. But I couldn’t fight him, we were both feeling tired so leading in blocks made sense. So I took the next pitch, a choice I would not regret.

The third pitch of the route was truly spectacular. The route takes you up a left facing corner but after 20-30′ from the belay you must move right along the face of the dihedral and onto the higher face, avoiding a large overhanging section. When climbing I knew that I had to make this move at some point, I just wasn’t sure when. I spotted a line that looked like it could work but I really wasn’t sure. Feeling as though it was my best option, I proceeded to give it a try. As I approached the arrêt on my right I started to wonder if there would be anything on the face for me to use. Pressing on the wind was screaming and I had a tiny flashback to the Overhanging Bypass route in Joshua Tree. As I got past the arrêt and onto the face, I smiled at how wild the section was and felt kind of bad that Ben wouldn’t experience it in quite the same way.

After the high of the third pitch, I told Ben that I’d take the fourth as well. In all honesty, I was happy to lead these lower pitches in order to avoid the 5.8 laybacking at the top of the route. So Ben took pitch 5 and wrestled with the chimney while wearing a small pack, not fun. After 22 pitches of leading I was so ecstatic to actually follow a pitch that I couldn’t contain myself and just raced up it. Given that Ben was going to lead the next two pithes as well I figured that I had nothing to lose.

After another awkward chimney on pitch 6, the climbing turned to polished laybacking. This is the section that I’d been working to avoid. I’m a pretty smart guy. At this time of day, the climbing here was tough. Near the top of the pitch Ben took a small fall, his first fall onto trad gear. I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve fallen four times onto trad gear, but given that I’ve experienced such things before I had a feeling that it would shake him up a bit.

Ben asked if I wanted to give the section a try, which I knew was more of a request than a question. I told him no. That was a hard thing for me to do, but I knew that there was another difficult section above us and that I was going to have to lead it. Because Ben is a stronger climber than I am, I didn’t want to deal with the mental challenge of reconciling how I was going to get through a section on lead that gave him troubles. So I made him finish the pitch, which he did without complaint. This is what makes Ben a great climbing partner.

After seconding him on pitch 6 and getting up to the belay, I was actually feeling pretty good. I knew that the next pitch was going to be my responsibility and that it likely contained the crux of the route. I also knew that we were on the verge of having a very pleasant day of climbing turn into a pain to finish and that getting through the next section was absolutely critical to staying on schedule. Thankfully it went down without issue and I felt a ton of pressure evaporate.

Ben and I talk a lot about how important it is to operate as a team while climbing these types of routes. Having two capable leaders not only allows you to mitigate situations like this, it shares the responsibility, shares the enjoyment and perhaps most importantly makes it easier to be empathetic with the person at the other end of the rope. Ben has come through for me more times than I can count so it felt good to be able to come through for him. But the lasting joy comes from seeing how strong we’ve become as a climbing team.

Royal Arches and North Dome Overview

Our route up Royal Arches and North Dome

After another pitch of climbing we topped out to a truly amazing sunset. It was 7pm and we’d been moving for the last 11 hours. I had run out of water three pitches ago and Ben was out as well. We still had five miles of uphill hiking left and we were suppose to meet the ladies in an hour. So we ended up being an hour behind schedule, but overall I’m pretty amazed at how well we did. We took a moment to enjoy the beauty of where we were and what we’d done. Looking at Half Dome across the valley we couldn’t help but wonder how the day went for the group of three that gave us a ride.

Sunset on Half Dome from North Dome

Compared to the intensity of the climb, the hike back doesn’t really stand out much in my mind. I remember it being uphill. I remember it being easier than I had expected. I remember that my only source of refreshment came from some chapstick. At one point I told Ben that if I was presented with the choice of water or a desirable woman, I’d choose the water. After about three miles into the hike we ran across a stream. We tanked up with another two literes each and couldn’t resist having a few sips before the treatment finished doing it’s duty.

At around 9pm we got to the road and wondered if we’d see my car. Alas, it wasn’t there and we proceeded to sit down and wait. In the proces it started to sprinkle a bit and I once again ran out of water, my eighth liter since we started climbing 13 hours prior. At around 10pm, just as I told Ben I was going to take a nap, two cars started slowing down and pulled into the parking lot. Big hugs were exchanged. It’s a day that I’ll never forget.

Stuck in the Bathtub

August 21, 2011

Two adults, two boys, one bathroom and no shower.  I suppose in this century many would call us tough, or nuts, or… dirty for living in such inhospitable conditions for nearly two decades (yes, there’s some sarcasm in there).  Whatever you want to call it, I played in the dirt and took baths for my entire pre-adult life.

In fact, a shower was such a rare thing that I actually have a memory of visiting a relatives house and using their shower.  Given the fact that I can’t remember who the relative was, only the experience of cleaning myself while standing, should be a good indicator of how ingrained bath time was for me.

Sure, I had to take showers after P.E. class in junior high but that was different.  At the time those were events where you were forced to get naked in front of all your same gender peers, go into a big room with water coming out from everywhere and find the delicate balance between getting clean and getting out.  That’s not a shower, it’s forced awkwardness made worse by the one kid who either didn’t feel awkward at all or was completely overwhelmed and reacted by goofing off and occasionally touching other kids.  Perhaps this was the driving force behind being a fast runner… getting to the locker room first so I could be in and out in relative solitude.

So yea, showers were rare and generally not enjoyed.  Thankfully this changed when I left home.  In college the showers were private and outside of the occasional incident when someone would jokingly empty a trash can into your stall, they provided me an atmosphere to focus on the intended task.

I don’t remember how, but at some point in my freshman year I discovered something interesting about my washing ritual; I washed my hair after washing my body.  In a bathtub it’s logical to wash your hair second, or at least it’s logical to me.  But in the shower, applying a top down approach is naturally the right way to go.

Being someone that appreciates and strives for logical approaches (even when it’s a bad idea) I changed and have been washing my hair first for almost 14 years now.  Up until last week.

Last week I ran out of liquid soap and turned to a bar of soap that I’ve had around.  It’s typical for me to be thinking about some problem while in the shower and therefore my mind is pretty distracted.  So when I almost got out of the shower without washing my hair I laughed at my focus induced forgetfulness.  The next day the same thing happened and I started to get a little worried about myself.  Day after that, remembered to wash my hair but once again it came second to my body.  Same for the fourth day.

Now to make things a bit more interesting, for the last three days I’m back with liquid soap and washing my hair first has come back naturally as well.  Okay, perhaps some won’t find this very interesting, but to me it’s fascinating.  I’ve got 14 years of a daily pattern: washing hair first and body second using liquid soap.  Growing up we mostly had bar soap so for those 18 years the pattern was: washing body first and hair second using bar soap.  So on the surface, it appears that my mind made some strange connection that tells me to instinctively wash my body first when using bar soap, no matter where I’m washing myself.

Of course this could all be coincidental, but I don’t feel like it is.  I find it to be a really fun example of how pliable our minds can be while at the same time be disappointingly literal.  It’s as though I hadn’t changed my behavior, I just learned a new behavior for a new set of paramaters.  If this is in fact what’s happened, it’s both a useful and a disturbing detail of our minds.  On the useful side, it means that we can subvert a behavior with a new one by just changing some of the paramaters in our environment.  But what’s disturbing is that the old behavior seems to linger and will show itself when the old conditions are present once again.

Makes me wonder how much we really change as people.  With enough duplication of my childhood environment, would I go back to behaving the same way I did when I was a child?  One comforting aspect is that while maybe we don’t have as much control over our behavior as we perceive, perhaps that’s offset by our ability to influence our environment.

Of course I’m not a psychologist or sociologist.  I’m just a guy who has part of his mind stuck in a bathtub.

Uncle: More Than A Niece

November 1, 2010

At the end of 2009 I became an uncle… kind of hard to believe but steadily getting easier. For the last year I’ve wrestled with this post and haven’t really felt like writing anything else until I figured it out. I was expecting an event of this magnitude to be an easy thing to write about but turns out that it isn’t. The problem isn’t a lack of excitement, it’s sorting out the excitement that is mine to share and doing so in a way that might be interesting to those outside of our family. We’ll see how I do.


When I arrived at Tate and Tammie’s place the day before Callie was born I got the feeling that I had more anxiety than they did. I got to feel Callie’s little kicks inside her Mom which made it pretty obvious what was going to happen in a few hours. Somehow Tate and Tammie went to bed but I stood in their kitchen and looked out at the massive amounts of snow on their deck. Looking at this snow and pondering what thoughts were running through their heads, I realized that never before had my brother and I been in more greatly differing places in our lives.

Tate is my only sibling and being four years older than I am he naturally dips his toe into some waters before I do. He turned 30 before me, purchased a house before me, got married before me and started working on having a family before me. Hell, I haven’t even started on those last three. Thankfully there isn’t a lot of competition between the two of us so you won’t find me complaining about this arrangement… maybe I wish that I turned 30 first but that’s it.

While my brother and I are quite similar, there is no doubt that we are in different places both geographically and chronologically. Growing up he was kind of a fortune teller. I could see the path he was taking and for so many years I instinctively wanted to follow that same path. It was his interest in having a car stereo that set me on a path to starting my own audio business when I was 16. It was his friend Josh’s acne that made me reluctant to treat my own. I even imagined that I’d join him in Minneapolis after I graduated college. This list can go on but you get the point, Tate was my role model and a fantastic one at that.

Things changed a bit when I moved to California. Without realizing it, I found a slightly different path and one that I’m pretty happy to be on. But I find it a little ironic that I never realized how much influence my brother has had on my life until I noticed how different our present places were. This realization was uncomfortable. I never would have thought that on the night before my brother would become a father and my parents would become grandparents that I’d be feeling the weight of 4 years and 2000 miles.


There’s a lot that I could say about the day Callie was born. I could talk about how amazed I was with Tate and Tammie’s calmness or how I got to see a new side of my parents. It’s very tempting to talk about how cute Callie was from day one and how nervous I was to hold her. While these are all amazing emotions, I’m going to resist because I can’t describe them in any meaningful way. Perhaps I can’t describe them because my memories of the day are overwhelmed by one simple observation.

After the delivery we visited Tate and Tammie in their hospital room. I tend to be sensitive towards various sounds and the beeping from Tammie’s heart rate monitor was one of them, it called to me. I noticed that every now and then it would jump up dramatically. The first time it was kind of puzzling. Then it happened again and again. After a few times I figured out what was going on and had a hard time holding my composure.

Every time Tammie touched or held Callie her pulse would shoot up at least 20 bpm.

You can see the connection that Tate and Tammie have with Callie by the way they look at her, smile at her and hold her. But Tammie’s heart rate shows a different kind of connection, one that exists outside of her conscious mind.


I spent some time this year thinking about what the future could hold for me as an uncle and Callie as my niece. I’ve found myself wondering if some of my interests will rub off on her. Will she be a geek or maybe play the guitar? Perhaps she’ll enjoy cooking or photography. Or maybe she’ll have a passion for the outdoors and scare the hell out of her parents just like I do mine. Maybe none of the above.

For me one of the joys of living is exploring all the different things we can do while we are alive. My parents did an amazing job of introducing me to wide variety of things and very rarely did they ever push them down my throat. Instead they presented me with opportunities and let me find my own direction and my own passions. That was quite the favor that they did for me.

But there seems to be something inside us all that wants to see our interests passed onto our children. Just take one look at the pressures that fathers can place on their kids to participate in a particular sport. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good way to ensure that they either won’t like it or will end up resenting you. So when I started hoping that some aspects of me would rub off on Callie I started feeling like a hypocrite.

After seeing her on my last trip I realized that my urge for her to have something in common with me is motivated by my desire to be connected with her. To have something that we can talk about, something we can share. So I’ve reframed things in my mind a bit. Instead of wanting a part of me to rub off on her, my goal is to share as much of me as I can and see where she takes herself.

The West Coast is a different kind of place than the Midwest with opportunities to explore different kinds of things. So it’s exciting to think about the things I can share with her out here during different parts of her life. Hopefully some of them will enrich her life and get her to ask some questions but I know that others will go right by her. But that’s okay, it will be her choice.

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