September 25, 2012
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.
September 17, 2011
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.
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.
September 6, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
November 12, 2009
Over the last month I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this post. Thinking about how to share this story, this experience, this accident and what it all means to me. After a month I still don’t quite know how to convey all of those things and sorting out how events impact me is always an ongoing process that I hope writing about will further.
Just so you know the gist of this story: I climbed, I fell, I broke my back… literally. But I’m okay.
I live a pretty adventurous lifestyle. Outside of this latest accident and a torn ACL 9 years ago, I’ve managed to get through a dozen years of activities like mountain and road biking, wilderness hiking, downhill skiing, backcountry snowshoeing, rock climbing and simply being a male in his 20′s without much health drama. While the average American might look at my lifestyle as dangerous or crazy, to me it’s a lifestyle of being alive and one that I’m perfectly comfortable with.
What you are comfortable with is an important thing to always keep in mind. Knowing when you can push that comfort zone and when you should stay in it. Comfort and confidence are strongly tied together and we mostly limit our lives to what we’re confident doing because well, it’s comfortable. But to continue growing as a person we need to expand what we’re comfortable with and increase our confidence in new dimensions. We all do this by learning new things, meeting new people, starting new relationships and many other ways. It just happens that one of my dimensions is exploring myself in nature and over the years I’ve become very confident in this area.
I mention this because I don’t want the lessons I’ve learned to be lost via dismissive thoughts like “he’s crazy” or “he was asking for it”. The reality is that we’re all crazy, we’re all asking for it and every now and then it catches up with us. So here’s the latest story of how I was asking for it and how it caught up with me.
“We did it because it’s fun and mainly it was fun… every now and then it went wildly wrong” — Joe Simpson, Touching the Void
If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you’ll know all about the events leading up to my fall so this section will be a bit repetitive. For those that haven’t, I was in Yosemite Valley for a 6 day climbing trip and on a route called Selaginella (5.8). The entire trip was going fantastically and the climbing couldn’t have been better. We were making great time, the weather was awesome, both Ben and I had done some great leads and the views were beyond spectacular. Everything was so fantastic that even the fall that I’m about to describe can’t tarnish those experiences.
I had just finished leading a 200′ rope stretching pitch to one of the coolest rock formations and belay stations I’d ever seen. From this location it was about 800′ straight down to the valley floor and about 170′ to the top of our climb. So with Ben taking the next lead I was assuming that once he reached the top I’d just have to follow up behind him and clean the gear along the way, piece of cake.
I couldn’t see Ben’s progress on most of the route so I was judging how things were going by monitoring the amount of rope I was letting out. Knowing that it was 170′ to the top I was surprised when Ben went off of belay with 60′ of rope left. I couldn’t hear him at this point so I wondered if I was mistaken about how much climbing we had left or if the beta in the topo was just wrong. Either way I started climbing up to him.
About 50′ from him he informed me that he hadn’t reached the top and that I’d understand why when I got there. I was curious what was going on but Ben didn’t sound remotely worried so I wasn’t either. He had stopped on this 20′ long ledge that was about 18″ wide and about 30′ from the top. He didn’t finish it off because the climbing below was pretty strenuous and he wasn’t sure if we were still on route or not. That was cool with me.
So we looked at our options, we had two of them. Over to the left was a large flake that was totally separated from the wall and looked like you could just push it over. In front of us was a face section with some very thin and detached flake and what appeared to be a small crack. The face looked quite featured and I thought I’d be able to get a piece of protection in 10′ off of the belay.
So I used these very thin flakes as foot holds while walking my hands up this seam in the rock that I thought turned into more of a crack. These flakes were about 1/8th of an inch thick and I could feel them moving a bit when I stepped on them. Needless to say I wasn’t looking to hang out on them for too long. When I got up to where I thought I’d be able to get a small nut in I realized that it wasn’t going to work out as I expected. This didn’t concern me too much because while the rock was sketchy, the climbing was easy and I wasn’t worried about falling.
Looking up at what I had left to climb I spied a nice pocket in the rock about 4 inches tall and 3/4 of an inch wide making it big enough to fit a solid cam into. I became a bit fixated on this pocket and when I reached it I discovered that I had run out of solid footholds on my right side. So instead of resting on the rock my foot was mostly holding on with friction. My left foot was on the sloping section of this seam in the rocks so it didn’t have a great amount of purchase either. I had a solid right hand in the pocket that I noticed below and a good left hand on the seam.
In order to place the cam into the pocket I had to remove my right hand from it, select an appropriate sized cam from the rack of gear, place it into the rock and clip my rope into it. The first cam I selected turned out to be a bit too small and the lobes on the cam were tipped out. What this means is that the cam was fully extended in the rock and it’s holding power would be drastically reduced. So I removed the cam to replace it with a larger one.
At this point I found myself starting to get nervous. My right foot started to Elvis (shake uncontrollably) which isn’t a good thing when it’s gripping the rock with friction. I managed to get myself to calm down and my foot stopped shaking. So I went back to looking for the right size cam and was having real trouble finding one that I liked. The nerves kicked up again and this time the shaking in my foot caused it to slip. Because my left foot was on an even worse hold and I only had one hand gripping the rock, I couldn’t hold on and fell.
At the time that I fell I was about 20′ above the belay and about 5′ from the top of this climb without a single piece of protection between me and Ben. This is called a factor 2 fall and it is the worst type of fall that a climber can take. When you fall on lead you fall twice as far as you are above your last piece of protection plus a bit for rope stretch. When your last piece of protection is the belay itself, that means you’re going to fall twice as far as you have climbed plus some rope stretch. For me this translated into what we are estimating as a 50′ fall.
At 190 lbs, I’m not the lightest climber and after 50′ of gravity doing it’s thing it takes a good amount of force to stop such a moving mass. When the rope started to come tight Ben initially couldn’t stop the fall and the rope started running through his right hand. Being an extremely good belayer he quickly found where the rope was leaving the ledge and stepped on it. Outside of being a fantastic person, this is reason I climb with Ben. Without his quick thinking my fall could have been 220′, I can’t thank and praise him enough.
The rock I was climbing wasn’t quite vertical, it was sloping just a little bit. So when I fell I slid down the first 20′ which wouldn’t have been bad except for that 18″ ledge. When I hit that Ben said that I just crumbled onto it and then off of it, this is what caused most of my injuries. This sent me tumbling down the remaining 30′ of my fall. When the rope came tight I found myself upside down and a bit disoriented, kind of like the scrambler amusement park ride if it were to end with you inverted and hanging by your waist.
Ben shouted down, “are you okay?!” I replied very quickly with “yeah, I’m fine”. He didn’t believe me and proclaimed that he saw my fall and that there is no way I could be fine after something like that. I felt pretty beat up but I didn’t feel broken and quickly swung over to the route we had climbed up and told Ben that I was going to start climbing up to him. He shouted down for me to hold on because he was “dealing with some pretty bad rope burn”. My heart sunk and I felt incredibly guilty about the injuries I caused him.
But in no time he told me that I could start climbing up to him and while doing so I noticed that my left heel was hurting a bit as well as my right knee and my lower back. But I honestly didn’t think too much about it at the time. I made my way back to Ben pretty quickly and got myself secure into the anchor that was now proven to be very bomber.
We hung out there for at least a half an hour. In that time my injuries were starting to become quite noticeable and I was growing anxious for a plan of what we were going to do. Our options were to rappel down the route leaving behind an enormous amount of gear and probably taking a least a couple hours to do so, have one of us try once again to finish the climb or wait for a party far below us to catch up and have them help us out.
With how slow the party below us was moving it would be at least a couple hours until we got to the top if we waited for them. Rappelling the route was not only unappealing for the massive amount of gear we would leave behind, it was also pretty dangerous. So we decided to get the guide book out and see what it suggested for our route.
Turns out we were suppose to go up the large flake over to our left. After thinking and talking it through, Ben said that he’d be willing to lead it and I could follow up behind him. Even with very severe burns he managed to climb up the flake and finish the route without any troubles. The adrenaline was starting to leave my body by the time I started climbing so it proved to be pretty painful. But even in my state I managed to finish it off without weighting the rope.
At the top Ben asked if I wanted to take a moment to at least enjoy the view, I said “nope”. The pain in my knee was excruciating and while I was happy to be at the top and next to a very popular hiking trail, I was pretty worried about the mile of hiking and the 1000′ of descending that was now in front of me. I couldn’t put any weight on the heel of my left foot and the pain in my right knee kept me from stepping down with that leg so the many sand covered steps of the trail were bound to make things interesting.
So I set myself little goals. I’d focus on getting to a landmark that I knew of or to a specified elevation. Along the way we ran into a couple of hikers that warned us that there was a bear just off of the trail in front of us. I thought about how ironic it would be to survive the fall but be eaten by a bear. So we approached the area slowly and made a bunch of racket. We noticed the bear above us and it seemed pretty content to mind its own business so we continued on our way chatting with the couple that warned us of the situation.
They, like almost everyone else that a climber runs into, was very curious about how we climb such things. I left the explanations and demonstrations of how the gear worked to Ben. While I was very worried that I had torn a ligament in my knee, I was very pleased with my ability to keep up with two hikers who were injury free. Plus the conversation helped keep my mind off of things and we were back at camp in no time.
At camp we got out the first aid kit. Ben cleaned up his burns and threw on some tape while I put an ace bandage on my knee with some ice. After hanging out a bit and sharing what happened with Dustin and Katie we walked back to the trailhead to pick up my car and went to the grocery store for some food. When we got back to camp I was still very sore but feeling surprisingly well. Well enough to make us some breakfast burritos for dinner and then hang out by the fire for a couple hours before heading to bed.
I was tempted to visit the medical staff in Yosemite but figured if the swelling in my knee and heel didn’t get any worse I could wait until I got back to the Bay Area. The next morning I woke up very stiff but was mobile. We packed up the car and started the drive home. Along the way we chatted about what had happened and bigger picture stuff around our climbing futures.
When I got home I didn’t want the doctors to be repulsed by my smell so I took a shower and headed to Stanford Hospital. I tried to get an appointment with a sports medicine doctor but none were available so I headed over to the ER. They admitted me and by 3pm I was in a room getting checked out and having some X-rays taken of my heel, knee and back. Around 5pm they decided that they wanted more info about my heel so they ordered a CT scan of it, fine by me. Around 7:30 they said that they couldn’t see anything wrong with my heel and started to discharge me.
Just before signing my discharge papers the doctor came in and put an end to the fun. He said that a more senior radiologist looked at the X-ray of my back and spotted a compression fracture in my L2 vertebrae. My response: “you’re shitting me”. Just like that I went from being a beat up guy to the most interesting person in the hospital and while everyone loves some attention, you don’t want it from doctors.
So I asked what this meant. They said that they needed to get a CT scan of my spine to determine if it was a stable or an unstable fracture. If it was unstable I’d have to go in for surgery and get my vertebrae fused and if it was stable they’d put me in a back brace for a month and I’d be on my way. What a contrast that is, I could be fine in a month or my entire outdoor life could be over. I started freaking out a bit.
So I called Ben and told him what was going on and asked if he could keep me company, he said that he’d be on his way. After getting of the phone I went in for my CT scan and was very nervous about it. I was so nervous that my entire body was shaking and all of the techniques I knew to calm myself weren’t doing the trick. This continued for another 20 minutes until Ben showed up.
Not only was it nice to have Ben around to keep me laughing and distracted, he was a better witness to what happened to me than I was and could tell a side of the story that I couldn’t. It also gave me a chance to hear about his struggle to find an burn specialist for his hand that his insurance company approved of. After a series of “recommended” doctors that no longer existed, he thankfully managed to find one that was truly interested in taking care of him and he needed it. With bandages covering the severe third degree burns on his palm and finger tips, it was pretty obvious to the staff that he was there to see me.
It was about 9pm the parade of doctors was just about to begin. Seems like everyone that was on staff that night came to check me out and hear my story. Each one of them performing their favorite barrage of neurological tests on my body, one of them even wanted to check the “tone” of my rectum, fun for everyone. I kept hoping that one of them would be as attractive as Elliot Reid from Scrubs, but alas that was not the case. As a reward for going through all of this they ordered me a dinner but the kitchen was closed so instead I was treated to a few packages of graham crackers.
The hours past and I got no conclusive information from the doctors. They seemed to be debating about how bad my fracture was and nobody wanted to make a call so they kept bringing in people with more experience hoping to clarify the situation. It seemed like some doctors just stopped by because they wanted to hear the story in person, one guy was even a rock climber. But at 4am they seemed to acknowledge the fact that a decision was not going to be made and they’d have to wait for their senior spinal guy to show up in the morning.
Not wanting to admit me into the hospital and not being able to send me home they decided to stick me over in a corner of the hospital where I could spend the night. I affectionately referred to this area as purgatory. I don’t care what the religious folks say, purgatory was really pretty nice, they had food, comfortable beds and some pain meds which allowed me to get to sleep. They even offered to let Ben stay in a room next door if he wanted! While a gracious offer, home has a pretty strong pull over a hospital, especially after 8 hours and there was really no point in sticking around. I was out shortly after Ben left.
In the morning the spinal guy checked me out and kind of laughed at me still being there, that made me feel good. It was clear to him that my fracture was stable and they threw me in a brace and shoved me out the door. I was to wear this brace for the next month or so and even though it was pretty annoying I was just thrilled to not need any surgery.
Like almost every other accident, there isn’t just one thing that went wrong in this one. Nothing in life is black or white, safe or unsafe and this is why textbook rules are impossible to apply to all situations.
Some climbers my criticize me for not following the best practices and getting some protection in sooner but anyone who has done a good amount of living knows that things don’t always work out that nicely and trad climbing is no different. I could have possibly clipped the rope to one of the pieces of the anchor but even that practice seems to be subjective and would not have changed my personal outcome in this case.
I could have and should have taken a look at the topo before setting off on this lead. It would have been obvious that the face was not the way to go and would have likely avoided the whole accident. I think about this one a lot and it frustrates me that I had this information and did not use it.
I could list off a number of other things that would have made a difference and kept us safer. But I feel like doing so would be like telling someone that 2×2 is 4 instead of telling them why 2×2 is 4. You could spend your life learning lessons about specific climbing situations and never know how to climb safely. So instead I did a little 5 whys exercise to see if I could find a deeper lesson.
What I came up with is the feeling like this accident was brewing for a while. So even if I had avoided the accident in this specific case, the risk of a similar accident would not have been removed. I’m not saying that I got injured because it was fate and I’m not saying that I deserved this because of the activity I was doing. What I’m saying is that the way I was escalating my climbing made a preventable accident inevitable.
In less than one year I’ve gone from no climbing experience to leading routes that 60 years ago were considered to be almost at the limits of human ability. I spent a lot of time measuring my success and gauging when to move up in difficulty based off of being able to complete a climb at some level. That’s a totally reasonable and safe approach to take in a climbing gym where things are predictable and you don’t need much margin for error. Trad climbing has a different set of requirements.
So instead of some blanket rules that every climber has heard, what I have come up with is the more abstract realization that I should have been paying more attention to what was fueling my confidence. I was comfortable leading a section that I shouldn’t have been because I had confidence in my abilities to do it. But that confidence was founded more on ego than reality and when things didn’t go just right it caught up with me.
If you’ve done something long enough that it becomes second nature, that’s a solid thing to be confident about, that’s what I’m calling reality driven confidence. Talking yourself up and increasing your ego driven confidence is fine, that’s a good way to push the envelope, but you should recognize when you’re doing that and avoid doing it when you’re betting the farm.
I continue to find that rock climbing closely parallels life and I think that’s why I love it so much. You have confidence you climb, you loose confidence or find that the confidence was misplaced and you fall. I don’t care if it’s rock climbing, building a relationship, running a company, the stock market, the housing market or anything else that involves humans, the same rule seems to apply. The more reality based confidence in the system, the safer the climbing.
November 8, 2009
Just to the left of Yosemite Falls (the tallest waterfall in North America) lies the Five Open Books. With one of the most amazing waterfalls next door it’s somewhat surprising that the area didn’t attract climbers until the 1960′s. While initially the climbing here was full of loose rock and vegetation, today with constant travel the routes are clean and quite enjoyable.
Unlike other areas of Yosemite Valley, the rock face is not continuous all the way up the valley. Instead it is divided up into tiers by very large ledges, so large that the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail runs on top of the second tier. The first tier gets you about 400′ off of the valley floor and the top of the second tier gets you another 600′ higher. So to climb to the top of the second tier you have to link together a couple of different climbs. For the first tier we decided to head up Munginella (5.6) and then finish off the day at the top of the second tier via Selaginella (5.8).
To access the base of Munginella you park at the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead. While gearing up and getting ready I noticed a couple ladies who were also getting ready to do some climbing. After a bit of chatting we discovered that they we were all heading in the same direction and they informed us that the climbers trail can be pretty hard to spot. So they offered to help out by showing us the way. We were quite thankful because they were right, the trail was quite hard to spot.
After a bit of 3rd class walking we arrived at the base of the climb. There was a party of three just getting started in front of us and not long after we arrived two more parties of two showed up behind us. A women in the party of three informed us that they were going to be moving pretty slowly because this would be the first lead for two of their members. Thankfully they were quite respectful and after they all managed to get to the first belay they allowed us to climb past them.
Ben took the first pitch and wasted no time in flying up the first half of the route. He setup an anchor above the first party and we made a quick changeover by swinging leads, trying not to hold them up. The second pitch flew by so fast that I barely even remember leading it. I reached the top and setup an anchor off of a few trees, trying not to spray rock and dirt down on the parties below us. With both of us at the top of Munginella we checked the time and laughed, 45 minutes to knock out the two pitches and 300′ of climbing, that’s really moving for the two of us.
In order to get over to the base of Selaginella you have to walk along the top of the first tier. It’s a very sandy and dirty climbers trail with a bit of elevation gain and a huge danger of dislodging rocks onto those below. While looking for the start of our next climb there seemed to be a number of possibilities. So we kept checking the guide book and compared the crack systems that we saw with what was drawn. After about 10 minutes of hiking we came across a location that was pretty obviously used to belay people from and sure enough, it was the start of the climb.
It was Ben’s turn to take the lead. The first pitch runs up a pretty nice dihedral and a solid 5.7 crack for hand jams and a bit of layback action. Because the route is quite vertical, there aren’t as many locations to take breaks making the climbing quite sustained. As the follower I was finding myself having to remove gear and rack it while keeping a hand in the crack at all times. The topo seems to suggest belaying just above a tree stump but if you continue on just a little bit further you’ll reach a huge ledge, queuing yourself up for being able to do the route in three pitches instead of four.
The second pitch starts out with a pretty solid 5.7 crack that requires good usage of fists. When you reach a piton you should start to traverse over to the left. The topo calls this section 5.0 and for some reason my expectation was that I’d be able to pretty much run up this part. While the climbing wasn’t hard at all, the route finding does require a bit of thinking.
While I was leading I remembered seeing a tree on the topo which I managed to sling with a double length runner so I knew I was on track at that point. But above there I was faced with a couple options. Over on the left there was a huge dihedral but it didn’t look very appealing. On the right there looked to be a squeeze chimney that I thought would be safer but I wasn’t sure if it was on route or not. I decided to take the chimney.
As I’ve mentioned in the last few posts, chimneys are kind of new to me. Unbeknown to me, this chimney is rated at 5.8 and is a very tight fit. I could get myself into it and feeling quite secure, but placing protection was a mammoth pain in the ass. The chimney was so tight that my body was just wedged into it so the movement of my arms was quite limited. But I managed to set a couple solid nuts along the way and was pretty happy when I was out of it.
Realizing that I’d done about 150′ of climbing I figured I should start looking for a place to setup an anchor and belay from. There were some good cracks around but nothing very comfortable to stand on. So I found myself looking upward, spying a place that looked good, getting to it and really not liking it that much. This cycle happened about three times until I saw what looked like a glorious ledge just a bit further. This one worked out.
I got up onto the ledge and immediately ran out of rope. I had climbed a bit over 200′ and if it wasn’t for the bolt and the piton I would have been worried that I was off route. I used the bolt and the piton for my anchor and backed it up with a big nut located in a crack between the two. After I got Ben on belay I had a moment to look around and started smiling ear to ear.
This wasn’t just any ledge I was standing on, it was a peninsula of rock jutting out of the face and just big enough for two people to stand on comfortably. It was easy to get a full 180 degree view of the valley below as well as see everything that we’d climbed so far. I yelled down to Ben that he was on belay and could watch his progress the whole way, it was very cool and I couldn’t wait for him to get up to me so we could share the experience.
I was also anxious to check the guide book and figure out where we were on the route. When looking we discovered that I had almost climbed two pitches and from here we’d be able to finish the route in one more pitch. But there was a decision to make, we could traverse left around a very wild 5.8 section or go up a 5.7 crack with a face section. Ben chose to take the 5.7 crack and I can’t blame him, the traverse looked extremely exposed.
From my vantage point, I could only see the first 20′ or so of this last pitch so outside of watching how much rope I was feeding Ben I wasn’t able to see his progress. I knew that he had to climb about 170′ to get to the top so I was rather surprised when he went off belay with 60′ of rope left (we climb with a 200ft rope). I wondered if the beta in the topo was wrong or if I was just mistaken about how much climbing we had left. Either way, I assumed that I was done leading for the day and after cleaning the route it would be in the bag.
The pitch itself was rather intense. The crack climbing off of the belay was pretty straightforward and it led up to a ledge full of large chunks of loose rock. Above that was a very tenuous traverse along a face with some under clings in a thin flake and minimal protection. After this traverse you get a bit of a reprieve with some nice 5.7 fists up to a small ledge. Taking a break here is likely a good idea because above here is some fairly strenuous 5.8 layback and stemming.
About half way through the stemming section Ben called down to me and told me that he hadn’t finished the climb. He said that I’d understand why when I got up there in a happy and almost excited way so I kind of laughed and said okay. When I reached him I found that he was standing on a big ledge about 18″ wide and 20′ long. Looking up I could see the top of the climb about 30′ above us, close enough I felt like I could just touch it.
So I asked Ben why he hadn’t finished the climb. Turns out the last pitch was pretty strenuous on lead and he wasn’t sure if we were off route or not. So he figured he’d bring me up and get my read on things. I could easily see how the climbing below would be strenuous on a leader so I completely understood and applauded him for deciding to bring me up.
We had two options to finish the route, a layback off of a detached flake on the left and a featured but difficult to protect face in front of us. The flake looked rather suspect to use as a layback so I decided that I’d lead the face section as it seemed safer. I’m going to save the details of the events that followed this decision for the next post. But as a summary, the features on the face got thinner and the places I thought I could get protection in didn’t work out as planned. As a result I had a rather bad fall. So in as far as beta for this route is concerned, I’d highly suggest not climbing the face and using the very stable fake on the left. It can be protected and is a much safer route.
I don’t enjoy leaving you dangling in regards to my fall but the details of it and the lessons learned deserve their own post. Also, the quality and enjoyment that this climb provides doesn’t deserve to be weighed down with all of that extra baggage. So I’ll leave you with a more pleasant image, a panorama taken a bit lower on the climb.