So Obsessed with Climbing, It Hurts Back to Index
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So Obsessed with Climbing, It Hurts

Ok, so I stole that line from the Climbing Narc, but at this time in my life, it started holding true for me as well. But we'll touch on climbing a bit later. For now, I'm going to finish up my late-summer excursions...

Point Reyes

At some point in the late Summer, Jared and I took a trip to Point Reyes for a short day hike. I don't remember exactly when this happened in the chronology, so I'll describe it briefly here. Point Reyes is a park that sits just North of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's known for its ocean views and hardwood forests. We also found a few small waterfalls that were pretty cool, and a banana slug that looked really tasty. Here's the pics:

Back to Sequoia

Within the two weeks after my family left, I returned to Sequoia two more times. This means that I went to the park THREE times in a three week period. Crazy, I know. The second trip was just Rafaela and I, and we decided to camp near Grant Grove the first night, then head to Panther's Gap and hike the trail to Pear Lake the next.
  After arriving in Grant Grove and staking out one of the last remaining campsites, we went for a hike on the Grant Grove loop. Here's a picture of me messing around inside of one of the fallen Sequoias:

The rest of the notable sights in the loop were covered in the section when my parents visited, so I'll spare you from them here. The night we spent at the Grant Grove campsite was quite entertaining. There was nothing to sit on in the site, and I had forgotten my camping chairs. As a solution to this problem, I decided to relocate a 1000+ lb hunk of tree-trunk from a spot about 100ft downhill of the campsite. This was no simple logistical endeavor, and I'm fortunate that I did not break or tear something while moving it. Once it was moved, however, it provided comfortable seating for up to three people, so I figured I had done a service to future generations of campers, assuming that nobody would hack it to bits and burn it. In addition to this bit of public service, I also spent some time bouldering in my crappy sandals (again, I know). But this wasn't any ordinary bouldering:

Yes, it was ass-first bouldering. Soon to be the standard for international competitions! :-) The next day we left early for Panther Gap, and luckily, for the nth consecutive time, it was void of people! Here's a picture of me, asian super-stoked that the campsite was empty:

After setting up camp, we spent the remainder of the day relaxing. The idea was that the following day, we'd pack up and stash our gear at the Y in the trail from Wolverton, then hike to Pair Lake and pack the rest of the way out. During our down time, we spotted some tree sap creating an interesting formation:

The sunset that night was as incredible as we'd come to expect from Sequoia:

The hike to Pear Lake is approximately 12 miles round trip and doesn't involve much elevation gain. Of course, the entire trail is over 8,000' in altitude, so it is somewhat tiring, but it wasn't very challenging for Rafaela and I. The four lakes that you pass are Heather Lake, Aster Lake, Emerald Lake, and finally Pear Lake. The trail first bends around near the Watchtower, which was covered in one of my previous sections. Heather Lake is the one where Jared and I previously went swimming. This time, we continued directly past Heather into new territory. As we continued to Emerald Lake, we spotted some multi-colored lichen on some granite near the trail:

The lakes themselves are formed from melting snow, as shown in these two pictures:

After rounding a corner, we got our first view of Aster Lake, which happened to be about two hundred feel below the level of the trail:

The nearby Emerald Lake had some snow in one corner, which I found pretty incredible considering it was only about 8,800 feet in elevation and it was early August. Here's me with my summer snowball:

We also saw a Coyote investigating a makeshift campsite near Emerald Lake:

After another mile or two of walking, we finally arrived at Pear Lake. By this time we were quite tired, and given that the lake didn't look too much more incredible than the last few, we felt it was somewhat anticlimactic. The landscape above the lake was quite alpine, however:

Mount Wilson

Between our two August trips to Sequoia, Rafaela, my roommate Colin Loveness, and I found time for a day hike up Mount Wilson, which is the tallest of the peaks above Pasadena. The trail starts in Sierra Madre, and covers about 5,000' of elevation gain in 5 miles, which is quite vertical. The scenery is only so-so, but how much could you ask for given that the trail is only eight miles from the apartment?!

Here's a picture of Colin and Me at the halfway point. Notice my superior sweat stains:

Near the top of the mountain there were some radio and cell phone towers that you could see from home:

Here's the three of us after finishing the hike:

Some of the people who had driven up to check out the Observatory couldn't believe that we had hiked up. When we told them it only took 3 hours, they were incredulous. While we were on top, we tooks a few minutes to check out the observatory before returning. Here's a shot of one of the larger telescopes:

Although the Mt. Wilson Observatory had been pretty important in years past, I do not believe it is in use any longer.

The Sequoia Group

Once we had completed the trail, we returned to grab our gear and hike out. Although the trip was rather short, at only three days, we felt like we took advantage and had a great time.

As I said before, we returned to Sequoia the following week! This time, my friends Ronen Mukamel and John Wunderlin came to visit from Boston and New York, respectively, and Rafaela's cousin, Marie, and her friend Alexis all decided to head to Panther's Gap for one last time (at least for Rafaela and I). On the way to Wolverton we stopped at Moro rock and also at the Parker Group. Here's a picture of Rafaela and her cousin Marie at the latter destination:

And here's Ronen and I contemplating something or other:

When we hiked up to Panther's Gap, we were surprised that it was occupied for the first time! We quickly decided that the best alternative would be to make a makeshift campsite on the top of Panther Peak. Ronen and I quickly went on a scouting mission up to the top to check on possible campsites. Fortunately, we found a perfect spot and reported back to the group. Although it was an annoying challenge to reach the top of Panther Peak, everyone agreed that the view and privacy were worth it.
   The next day we decided to hike Alta Peak. I had done this hike once previously with Jared and Rafaela just as I was getting off crutches. I hoped that this time around, the hike would be a bit easier. Here's a picture of Alta Peak on the approach:

Once you get up near the top of the peak, the sun becomes pretty intense and shade is a precious commodity. Here's Ronen and I enjoying some underneath a Bristlecone Pine. Alexis is at the bottom-right:

Both Marie and Alexis had a bit of a struggle on their way up, but they both made it! Here's a picture of them relaxing on the summit:

From the top of Alta Peak, you get a pretty good view of Pear Lake down below:

After returning from Alta Peak, Ronen, John and I decided to check out the true summit of Panther Peak. As it turned out, reaching the top involved quite a bit of rock scrambling:

Ronen and I went the easy way, while John decided to instead free-solo a 300 foot face to reach the top. Here's a picture of him finishing this incredible climb:

From the top of the peak, it was possible to make a small traverse to an extension with a boulder on top. The dropoffs were pretty massive, making it thrilling to cross over, but because of the photo opportunity, neither Ronen nor I could pass it up:

The sunset that we witnessed from the top also did not dissapoint:

We climbed down from the peak before it got too dark. Back at the campsite we caught the moon rising above the high peaks:

The following day we spent some time poking around the mountain near our campsite. To our surprised we discovered wreckage from a plane crash on the far side of Panther Peak. We found an 18-cylinder engine, two massive wheels, and thousands of pounds of other wreckage. It was very eerie, but the only trace of humans was a single shoe. When we later looked up the accident online, we learned that it occurred in the 1950's and resulted in the deaths of two people. Craziness!

Radiohead, In Concert

A week after this last Sequoia trip, I had another business trip to Northern California that Rafaela was able to tag-along on again. In fact, the plan was to steal away as early as possible on that Friday to get in line for the Outside Lands Music Festival being held in Golden Gate park. There were several other quality acts playing, including Beck, Wilco, Liars and Andrew Bird, but we decided in advance that we were just going to stake out a good spot for the Radiohead show. Rafaela left Pleasanton at 10am to get a spot in line, while I continued at work. Unfortunately, a critical network issue occurred that day, making it hard to leave. Fortunately, I have very little involvement in network-related affairs, so simply being on a conference call was satisfactory. As I got closer to the park, it became evident that I might not make it by the time they opened the gates. If this happened, I might be forced to get in line since Rafaela would no longer be waiting outside the park. As my slow-ass-bus continued, I tracked my progress on my KP Blackberry. Once off the bus, I sprinted to meet up with Rafaela just before they opened the gates.
  Once the gaits opened, it was an all-out sprint across the field to stake out spots. There were dozens of people in front of us, but we easily passed most of them since the field was so long and everyone was getting winded except us ;-) When we arrived at the stage, we couldn't believe it, but we were able to snag a couple spots in the FRONT ROW! As I've said a thousand times before, being front row is way better than second row, since you can lean on the guardrail, making the hours in advance much more tolerable. Also, for Rafaela, at 5', it's nice not to have anyone in front of her, obstructing her view. Before Radiohead came on, there were two prior acts. The first act was a pretty good Reggae Band called Steel Pulse:

Next up was an overly excited group named Manu Chao that seemed to play an endless number of encours. In spite of this, they were also pretty decent:

Eventually, after waiting for about six hours, Radiohead came on. Their stage setup was absolutely ridiculous. It involved dozens of hanging columns of transleucent plastic filled with multi-colored LEDs. They had programmed a different color sequence for each song, with the effect of having a live iTunes Visualizer on steroids. It certainly captured the essence of the title of their recent album, 'In Rainbows'. Anyway, I brought my digital camcorder to the show and was lucky enough to capture about 60% of it in really high quality. Here's some shots that Rafaela took of the band doing their thing:

In the end I was glad that I captured the footage, helping me remember how incredible the show was, but I also was glad that I had the camcorder turned off for some of the more personal tracks, like Exit Music [for a Film]. Once the show was over, the masses started moving toward the bus stops. Since we were in the very front, we were one of the last couples to leave the fairgrounds, and thought that we'd be totally screwed as far as getting a bus back. Oddly enough, the moment we showed up at the bus stop, we stepped in front and boarded a bus that pulled up just as we got there. In the end, everything worked out perfectly!

Kayaking on Castaic Lake

  A couple weeks after the Radiohead concert, Rafaela and I decided to break out the kayaks, which had just been collecting dust in the storage room. We put the makeshift kayak rack on my car and loaded the boats, then left for the launch site. When we arrived, we were asked to pay $16 in launching fees ($8/kayak) which I felt was ridiculous considering the launching fee for a powerboat was only $15. This was the first indication that we were not welcome on this lake. Once we parked the car and got the boats in the water, we pushed off, only to be assaulted almost immediately by the wake of the dozens of powerboats that overran the lake. It became immediately apparent that this lake was more or less designated for lazy powerboaters only, and only an idiot would take a kayak or a canoe on it due to all the traffic and engine-generated wave-action. In an attempt to seek shelter from all of the boats, Rafaela and I headed for one of the longer arms of the lake, hoping to find an area too shallow for them to pass. Luckily we were able to find something that suited us. Here's a picture of Rafaela heading towards our sanctuary:

The very backmost spot in this arm of the lake was devoid of boating activity and had a nice area for us to beach the kayaks and spread our towels. We decided to go for a quick swim as well. Here's Rafaela balancing on a rock near our spot:

After we swam and relaxed for a while, we decided to head back to the open water to check out some other parts of the lake. Here's a pic of Rafaela on her way out:

After paddling a ways down the lake, we were enticed by what might be beyond a narrowed area at the far end, but with the powerboats and the distance, we decided against it and simply played around in the open water a bit before returning. Here's a shot of the open lake with the narrow section at the end. Even though this picture has several powerboats in it, it still does not adequately convey how overrun the lake was on this day:

Once we had packed the kayaks packed up and left, we decided that although we were glad we came out and gave the lake a chance, we definitely were not going to come back.

Malibu and the Getty Villa

Late in September, Rafaela and I went to a park along the Malibu coastline called El Matador Beach. Our plan was to explore the beach for a while and then attempt to visit the Getty Villa, which is a satellite building of the Getty that is themed like a Roman Villa, also located in Malibu. When we first arrived at the beach I was excited because there was so much rock around. I figured we could do some impromptu bouldering without much trouble. After a while, we found that the rock was really chossy (breaks easy) but that didn't stop ME!

Of course there was no easy way down, so I ended up having to jump onto the hard sand. Ouch! On our way to Matador Beach, Raf and I stopped to pick up some Subway subs. When I came down from my climb, I rejoined Raf near the water but accidentally left the subs up near the cliff. By the time we turned around to notice the gulls pecking away, they had already literally eaten the entirety of both subs, except for a few pickles. It was actually impressive how quickly they consumed them. We picked up the paper and plastic scraps and continued walking down the beach. There were a few spots where the waves had carved arches out of the rock formations:

Underneath one of the arches, I found enough good rock to put together my first ever with-sandals V13. I named it 'Riesig Ubermensch!!':

After we finished exploring the beach, which was rather dreary due to the marine layer and thieving seagulls, we decided to head over to the Getty Villa. We learned at the gate that visits were by reservation only, but the friendly staff offered us two tickets that hadn't been redeemed earlier that morning. This essentially meant that we got free entry (minus the parking, of course)! The villa itself was really beautiful. In fact, I was completely blown away by the number of statues, marble sculptures and other incredibly rare and expensive things they had. Here's a picture of Rafaela lounging outside near the garden:

Here's a shot in the other direction:

And now, across the garden and reflecting pool:

Inside, there were several rooms filled with ancient artifacts. One of the rooms, called the 'Marble Room' was made entirely out of different types of marble. Here's a picture of the wall:

The next room was a gallery that also had a lot of marble in it. On each side of the room were rows of statues.

Here's a shot of the courtyard of the Villa:

In another room there was an incredibly intricate marble floor that supposedly matched one created for the original villa upon which the Getty's was based. Here's a look:

And finally an interesting mosaic fountain outside:

Overall the Getty Villa offered a more personal experience than the main Getty itself. The spaces were smaller and more private. Generally it felt less like a museum and more like someone's baller-ass estate. I am glad, however, that it is a museum, rather than the latter, because that would just be stupid. So, if you're in the mood for ruminating on the works of great artist, head to the Getty; if you feel like meandering around an ornate mansion filled with ancient trinkets and statues, head to the Getty Villa.

Some Minor Tragedies

Early October 2008 brought a few unfortunate occurrances. The first thing that happened was that the stock market crashed, losing over 20% during the week beginning on October 6th. During this drop, and the subsequent drops leading to the Recession, I lost about $16,000, which totally sucked. The stocks that I had been holding, including predominantly Berkshire Hathaway, had been doing quite well, and when I visited Madison for Epic's UGM in September, I was actually up almost $5,000. At least when I eventually did sell my shares, I no longer had to watch them day-to-day and this eased my stress level somewhat. I hoped that when the economy did bottom-out, I might be able to buy back in and make some of my lost money back.
   The second crappy thing that happened related to my commute to work.Up until this point, I had been riding my bicycle to Kaiser, which was in old town Pasadena, about a mile away from the apartment. About a week prior, I had been clipped in an intersection by a car, and this caused me to almost fall, but I didn't. On October 9th, while riding to work, a turning car crossed the bike lane and hit me on my broad side. In an instant, I jumped off the bike and rolled over the hood of the car. The bike was pretty severly bent up, but I fortunately was relatively unscathed. While I was at the side of the road, Natali randomly drove by and pulled over to help. The man who hit me was very apologetic and expressed that he previously was concerned about his level of attentiveness while driving. Considering that we had made eye-contact before he hit me, I certainly agreed with him. At any rate, he agreed to replace my bike, which I felt was appropriate. A couple of weeks later, when I finally got the bike, I was returning from my first day of work back on the bike commute when I almost got hit by a pickup truck that crossed through the bike lane at an intersection. At that moment I decided that commuting on a bicycle wasn't worth dying for, and I gave it up.

Canadian Thanksgiving

As it turns out, Canadian Thanksgiving occurs on the second Monday of October. Dan, Colin and I decided to cook up some good eats to celebrate with Rafaela, the Canadian in our midst. For food, Raf and I made our specialty fat-free Vegan Falafel:

We also made an apple pie which was super tasty:

An finally, here's a cute picture of Rafaela and I giving thanks together on this special day:

Camping Near Santa Barbara

For my Birthday, Rafaela booked a campsite at the El Capitan State Beach which is just beyond Santa Barbara on the California coast. I was excited because this was going to me my first time camping at one of the Cali Beach State Parks. Also, my previous stops in Santa Barbara had been brief, and I was excited to finally get a chance to check out the town a bit more. For those of you who do not know, Santa Barbara is one of America's most beautiful cities, with towering mountains coming down to a beautiful bay in a few miles. Here's a couple of pictures that give you an idea of what I'm talking about (I didn't take them...):

The architecture in Santa Barbara is more cohesive than nearly all other cities in the US, and has a distinctive spanish style. The layout of the town is very European, in that a lot of effort has been made to keep it walkable and to keep cars out of the busiest commercial areas (called Paseos). As an example of how different it really is there, take a look at this next picture:

Believe it or not, this is the Santa Barbara Airport terminal. If you look closely at the sign in front, you'll notice the top line is directions to the Baggage Claim! As I said before, this was really Raf and I's first opportunity to check out the city. We spent a while walking through the Paseo's and walkstreets. The Old Paseo, or El Paseo, I don't remember the exact name, was surprisingly intimate. It actually involved walking through buildings and down several smallish corridors. The whole time I felt like I was on private property but it was actually the intended path for the Paseo.
  On the way back to the car, Rafaela and I noticed a strange-looking building situated behind the buildings on the main drag. We eventually found our way up to it. Called the 'Ablitt House', it was the creative idea of the owner who had purchased a 22' x 22' lot in central Santa Barbara and wanted to do the maximum possible with it. I must say he certainly succeeded. Here's a small picture of the building:

After bumming around Santa Barbara for the morning, we continued to El Capitan State Beach to find our campsite. Upon arriving, we made the unfortunate realization that much like many of the other California State Parks, El Capitan was a bit too 'RV Friendly' and there was very little actual camping going on. Regardless, we found a decent spot after looking around a bit and made the best of it. There wasn't much time remaining on the first day, so we settled in for a nice sunset

After the sun went down, we built a fire in our elevated fire pit and broke out the marshmellows. Here's me complacently cooking mine:

The next day we found our way down the cliffs to the water. Hiking along the water's edge was actually a lot of fun. There were several places where the water was crashing against elevated rock escarpments. We sort of made it a game to traverse these formations without getting soaked in a wave. Some of the spots required you to run 20 meters then climb an eight food rock face all within the short span between two waves. It was actually quite fun to make our way back to the campground this way.

Trad Climbing

So, most of the climbing-related entries are put in their own section Here but because it was developing into such a major part of my life, I figure it deserves some mention here as well. In late 2008 I decided that I wanted to start climbing in Joshua Tree, which is the pre-eminent climbing destination in Southern California. The main thing about Josh, however, is that the vast majority of climbs are 'Trad' climbs. Trad stands for traditional, and basically means that the rock isn't bolted, and protection must be provided by the lead climber. This usually involves bringing 'nuts' and 'cams' up the climb with you, and placing them in fissures and cracks in the rock where possible, so that if you fall, they will hopefully prevent you from hitting the ground. Of course, traditional climbing is much more risky than gym or sport climbing, so it's important to take it slow and learn the basics of anchor building, rope management, and placing gear. Before you can do any of this, however, you have to buy the gear in the first place. Throughout the last half of 2008 I dropped about $1400, on my first full package of gear, which you can see here:

The devices at Raf's feet are cams. The nuts are sticking out between the two backpacks on the floor. They are just little pieces of colored aluminum that you can wedge in cracks. The cams are more mechanical, and actually lever themselves against the rock to increase the friction to hold a fall. Anyway, the end of 2008 brought along many climbing trips to Joshua Tree. Rafaela was my partner, and we tackled many routes together, starting at 5.3 and working up to 5.7 by the time the year was over. Here's a shot of Rafaela and I at Quail Springs on the day of my first Trad lead:

On this particular trip Colin tagged along as well:

A Wonderful Thanksgiving

Later that month we went on our Thanksgiving trip, which happened to be one of the most amazing trips of my life. In spite of the poor weather forecast for the Wednesday night thru Thursday, Rafaela and I decided to head to Joshua Tree for a long trip of climbing and camping. When we arrived on Wednesday night, the rain hadn't started yet, but we could tell that it was developing as we setup camp. We managed to find a nice spot in the Jumbo Rocks campground. The site had many independent areas and was well-partitioned from the nearby sites. We found a spot that seemed to have good drainage, setup the tent, and got comfortable. Within an hour or so the rain started and it actually got pretty intense. Up to this point, my tent had very little experience in the rain, but it performed admirably that night, and when we awoke at seven or so, we were completely dry. Since the clouds were breaking up and the sun starting to peak through, we hung the tent on some southwest facing rocks and jumped in the car to go do some climbing. At this point, the majority of climbs that we were working on came from the 'Trad Guide to Joshua Tree' which contained 50 of the easier quality traditional climbs in the park. Our trips prior to this one had predominantly been to learn, but this was really our first visit where we planned to tick off some more exciting routes.

  On the first day we went to a place called Stirrup Tank, where I had never been before, and climbed two routes, 'New Toy' 5.5 and 'Gargoyle' 5.6. Gargoyle was a straightforward 5.6 splitter crack, and at this time, cracks were definitely my weakness. I also was wearing really poor shoes. As a result, about 20 feet up the climb, I took my first trad lead fall. Fortunately, the first piece held, it was a #2 Camalot. If that piece had pulled, I would have hit the ground and possibly broken an ankle or two. In spite of the fall, I got back on and finished Gargoyle. Then, after we finished at Stirrup Tank, we went over to Belle Campground and climbed 'Diagnostics' 5.6 which was a really fun route.
  On the second day, Raf and I went to the Real Hidden Valley early to get on the Thin Wall before the crowds showed up. Fortunately, we were the first ones there. Here's a picture of use just before we climbed the route 'Ain't Nothin' but a J-Tree Thang' 5.6:

After we finished this route, which was rather short and unmemorable, we left for the Hidden Valley Campground to climb 'The Bong' 5.5, which was another straight in-crack. I had an easier time with this route when compared to Gargoyle, and actually enjoyed it a lot. The only thing that was somewhat disconcerting was the downclimb, which required some 4th class unprotected climbing where a fall would have resulted in serious injury. The handholds were jugs, however, and I took a great deal of care, and it wasn't too bad in the end. After the Bong, we went to the Barker Dam area to climb the 'Keystone Crack', 5.6. This lead was also relatively short and unremarkable, but I remember having a few issues placing good gear in the middle of the climb. The next day, a Saturday, we spent the morning climbing Fote Hog, a two pitch route up the Sentinel, in the morning, and then relaxing in the afternoon. Here's a picture of Fote Hog that we took after we finished it:

After the belay where the people are in this photo, you continue up the weakness in the rock behind them. The climbing was very exciting, with many different types represented. There was a traverse, an overhang with jugs, a finger crack, and a dihedral corner up top. Both Rafaela and I felt ecstatic about completing our first two-pitch climb. Because my rack was still somewhat small, I didn't have many pieces of protection left to place on the second pitch. In the end I think I placed only 3 or 4 pieces for about 100' of climbing. This didn't bother me though, since the climbing was pretty easy.
  On the last day of the trip, Raf and I went to the Dairy Queen wall which is near Hemingway. We climbed my first 5.7 route, called Scrumdillyishus, which was a long and vertical crack that had many features for holding onto. Here's a picture of that pitch. It's the left-most crack:

Once we finished Scrumdillyishus, we considered the trip to be an absolute success and returned home, completely fulfilled and significantly more experienced in this new discipline of traditional climbing.

The End of the Season

At this point, I had been climbing since late January, and although I had taken some extended rests, my finger injury did not seem to be healing appropriately. I decided that I would put some effort into sending a couple of hard problems, and then take a 2 month break over the holidays. Just before the rest, Raf and I climbed a couple of 5.7's on a short trip to Joshua Tree, and then on the way home from the park, I decided to stop in at the Arc. The two 5.7's had been a bit short, and I still felt pretty energetic to get some good climbing in. When I got into the Arc, for some reason I stopped over at this easy v5 that I had been working on bit recently. The moves felt really good and after only a couple of tries, I sent the problem. I was excited about the send, but I know that this problem was very soft for the grade, and probably only a v4. After I sent that route, I decided to take another look at a green uber-sloper problem that had completely stumped me before. It involved a few big moves at the beginning to get settled on the tenuous slopers and then a sequence of balancy and technical moves to make it to the top. The crux involved a long move off two of the slopers up to a horrible underclingish hold that had almost no use. Once you got that hold, you had to quickly go for the top sloper before topping out. I did not expect to be able to do the crux of the problem, but after maybe fifteen minutes of working on it, I had it completely dialed, and began to get excited about a send. I knew that this problem was at least a v5, so it would have made two in one day. After taking a good long rest, I made my first send attempt and failed at the crux. I then took another rest and sent the problem. This was very exciting for me since it meant that I had gone from v1 to v5 within my first year of climbing, something that I didn't expect, especially with my finger injury. Now that I had time to take a long break, I had higher hopes for my climbing the following year.

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