The Wunderling Visits
Towards the end of March my friend John Wunderlin came to visit for about ten days. This was going to be John's first visit to the Pacific Northwest. Luckily we had a few consecutive days of sun when he arrived and we took advantage. The first nice full day Janel, John and I went to the Gorge for some sightseeing and hiked to Wahclella Falls. Much like when I went with Anthony, Romi and Adinah, we also crawled to the back of the Om cave and Om'd for awhile. John also joined us at the climbing gym a couple times during his visit and, more importantly, joined me for some AWESOME yoga classes taught by Sarah Lakey at Yoga Pearl where we both got $20 unlimited two-week passes (only available to first-timers).
While I can't generally endorse this yoga studio as much as I can YoYoYogi, I felt that Sarah's classes were the best I've attended anywhere. John was also grateful for the experience because he feels that he has a better basis for evaluating classes he takes in the future. One evening John and I decided to try and find some good Indian food in Portland. I had heard that there were some good ones in Vancouver, WA, just across the river, so we headed up that way to Abhiruchi. I ordered the best vegetarian blob food that I was familiar with on the menu and we feasted. I would say that it was really good, but not as good as India Oven in Sacramento. Four out of Five stars :-) Here's a picture of John awaiting his food:
On the Friday of the week of John's visit, Janel and I saw Emancipator play at the Doug Fir. Unfortunately the show had sold out so it wasn't possible for John to get tickets. For those of you who aren't familiar with Emancipator's music, definitely check out their website www.emancipatormusic.com to get a taste. It's pretty universally appealing trip hop. Opening for Emancipator was Shigeto, another talented electronic artist who incorporates video game themes and live drum loops into his music. After Shigeto, Emancipator came on and killed it. The eclectic audience loved it and there was a lot of dancing going on. I was glad the violinist who played in their LA show two years prior was present since I feel he adds a lot. Here's a picture of the two of them:
For most of John's visit after the first weekend the weather wasn't stellar, but on the last full day we decided to venture to the coast near Tillamook anyway to try our luck on a coastal hike. We ended up getting really lucky and the hike to the tip of Cape Lookout was very enjoyable. We were limited on time so we went quickly, but we were able to relax for a bit at the end. Here's John the Jokester chilling on the rocky bluffs:
And here a picture looking down the bluff toward the water:
In addition to the hike we also stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory for some free cheese samples. The lines were too long for the ice cream, though, so we went without. The next day John returned to New York City.
Janel's 26th B-Day and Frenchman's Coulee 2012
On April 6th Janel celebrated her birthday. After a hospice visit, I joined Janel, Rena and Rob at Mt. Tabor park to walk around for awhile. The weather was beautiful and someone was lightly playing a drum, so it was very peaceful to lie down in the grass for awhile. Afterwards the four of us went to a community accupuncture session nearby. It was a bit more enjoyable than my first accupuncture experience but still somewhat weird. The practitioner seemed incapable of keeping his voice down when talking to people about their ailments. Nonetheless, it was pretty enjoyable overall. Next we grabbed some small, make-your-own cupcakes and returned to the city. We stopped at a bar I'd never been to called 'Roadside Attraction', which was absolutely my style. Although I haven't been drinking much lately, I really enjoyed this bar since it had an outdoor fire pit and really good local beer on tap. Here's a picture of the place that I didn't take:
After roadside we went to Deschutes to grab some drinks and snacks with Janel's family. Then we picked Rob and Rena up again to head over to Holocene for some dancing. I don't remember who performed that night [Daedelus was one of the groups, rocking the monome...], but it was pretty good, and generally somewhat intense dance music (a la dubsteppish). Around 12:30 or 1 I found myself surprisingly tired. I guess drinking and partying all night isn't as easy as it used to be. We left not long after this and went to bed. All in all, a super fun day!
The next day Janel, Anthony, Romi, Saph and I packed up to head to Frenchman's Coulee for a couple days of camping and climbing. We arrived late in the evening and decided to try some nighttime climbing at the Sunshine Wall. Hiking to the wall turned out to be quite the ordeal. We arrived at the top of the mesa and got completely turned around. At one point we ended up near what sounded like a marsh with frog noises omnipresent. After trekking around for around an hour we were close to giving up when all of a sudden we discovered the cleft in the earth that leads down to the Sunshine Wall. In the end we got two pitches of climbing in, Peaceful Warrior (5.6) and Seven Virgins and a Mule (5.7). These were my first two pitches of outdoor climbing since my finger surgery and they went well. When I topped out Seven Virgins I accidentally dropped my headlamp and it fell about seventy feet down to the rocks below. Surprisingly it still worked! After these two pitches we returned to the campground and went to bed. In the morning we returned to the coulee and found the Sunshine Wall to be completely packed:
Because the lines were so long for the moderates at Sunshine Wall, we decided to head to the lower entablature layers where I'd never climbed before. The guide gave several of the climbs down there very high ratings, but I found them to be pretty short and not nearly up to the standards of the upper levels. Nonetheless, we managed to have a good time. Here's Anthony, Romi and I getting ready to climb:
While we climbed Saph decided to head out for a hike to the sand dunes at the bottom of the Coulee. After we climbed for most of the morning Saph returned and the group of us left to hike toward the waterfall at the head of the coulee. Here's a picture of Janel in my classic pose at the top of the mesa:
From this vantage point it was possible to see the very bottom of the coulee where there was a small pond in a deep depression:
For some reason this was really disgusting to Saph and Romi:
We were also able to get a really good shot of the overcrowded Sunshine Wall from this spot:
After a quick meditation session at the source of the waterfall we returned to the campground for the afternoon. That evening we returned to Portland and listened to some good music on the ride back.
The San Frantastic Return of Zach
After John left I surprisingly heard from my college friend Zach Carter who I hadn't since before my motorcycle accident. Apparently he was going to be taking a trip through California and was wondering if it would be possible to meet up at some point. Since I had been planning on making a trip to the Bay Area for awhile, I decided to head down there from April 13th-17th to visit folks and reunite with Zach. In addition, I decided to drive down so that I could pick up an instrument in the Ashland, OR area. I'd purchased a Hammered Dulcimer to play for my hospice patients, and perhaps around the campfire when car camping as well :-) I left work early on that Friday to get a head start, and the drive turned out to be rather long and uneventful. I hit some bad rain in the central valley, but it didn't last long. When I arrived in San Francisco I went to Chris Bank's place on Panhandle Park and we went out to a bar called Churchill where Rob Melville met up with us. I hadn't had a drink in several weeks so the three beers I had that night floored me! In the morning I explored the park just outside their apartment. It was beautiful and connected to Golden Gate park to the West. I found a really nice tree to meditate under:
Here's a picture of the bike path that runs through the Panhandle:
That afternoon I went over to East Bay to hang out with Yaacov. We decided to do a hike in the Berkeley Hills, somewhere I'd never been. The drive up through the university was beautiful, and I was surprised how well-maintained and scenic the trails and roads were. Here's the view looking East toward Mt. Diablo:
And here's the trail as it snaked West toward the bay. Notice Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background:
Throughout this area there were cattle grazing in what seemed like the ideal environment. They even had little ponds for drinking!
We ended up hiking about 8 miles and barely avoided getting snagged by poison oak when we stupidly decided to go off trail for a bit. When we returned to his place in Berkeley we decided to grab some Ethiopian food with his wife Yen. Lately I've decided that I love Ethiopian food, especially at Dalo's Restaurant in Portland. The food we had in Berkeley was also delicious. After this we picked up some firewood at the grocery store and enjoyed a couple hours of conversation around a campfire we built in his backyard. My clothes ended up permeated with that wonderful campfire smell :-) Around midnight I jumped back in my car and returned to Chris's place in San Francisco.
The next day, Chris, his roommate Adrian, and I decided to grab some food at Whole Foods for a picnic in Golden Gate Park. We took our bicycles. The spring weather was so beautiful that day and we ate lunch in a field of flowers. After lunch we spent a few hours exploring the park on our bicycles. Here's Adrian enjoying a band playing in the Music Concourse Bowl:
And here's Chris acting busy in the same area:
Later on we happened upon a really nice man-made waterfall in the middle of the park:
Following my lead, Adrian soloed some tree roots nearby:
After we returned from the park, Chris and I decided to head down to Palo Alto to meet up with Andrey Polonsky and Ronen Mukamel. This would be the first time since my motorcycle trip in 2006 that I would be in the same place as four Brighton people outside of Rochester. Ronen had recently accepted a professorship (!!!!!) at Stanford, and Andrey was still living with his wife in South Bay and working in Robotics. We put our names down for a popular looking hummus restaurant called Oren's Hummus Shop and went to grab some coffee. Here's Ronen and Andrey discussing something complicated at the coffee shop:
As it turned out, the food at Oren's was absolutely incredible, and very reasonably priced. We all had a wonderful time there and caught up on our lives in recent years. After dinner we returned to Ronen's for a few more hours of conversation before we parted ways and returned to San Francisco.
On Monday morning I picked up Zach and his girlfriend JR near one of the BART stops in San Fran. It was pretty surreal to see him again and we dove headfirst into catching up. We picked up lunch to go at a sandwich shop in Mission district and then went to Dolores Park to eat. Once again the weather was beautiful, so we decided to drive up the Twin Peaks to get a better view of downtown:
As proof that I did, in fact, see Zach Carter on April 16th of 2012, I offer this photo:
And as proof that Zach does, in fact, have a new girlfriend who doesn't hate me (like the old one), I offer this photo:
After leaving Twin Peaks we decided to do a short walk in Golden Gate park. One of the places we visited on foot that Chris, Adrian and I missed on our bikes on Friday was Stow Lake:
We spotted a couple of turtles on a log here:
The last thing that we found of note were these flowers that looked unlike any others I'd seen before:
After we finished walking around Golden Gate Park, I picked up another one of their friends and drove them to the place they were staying in Berkeley (near Yaacov's in fact). We all went out to get Burmese food (yum!) and then Zach and I broke off from the group to grab a few drinks together at a nearby pub. It was a fitting way to end the day, and we decided that we should definitely stay in touch and not let such a long time pass between visits again. I walked Zach back to his place and then drove over to Yaacov's to spend the night. The next morning I went to Sacramento to spend the day with Jasmin at Sutter, then made the LONG drive home to Portland that night.
In stark contrast to 2011, the weather thus far in 2012 has been stellar in Portland. We've had many warm, sunny days, and relatively little rain. As a result, we've managed to take advantage of the outdoors much more. On the first weekend after returning from San Francisco, we went to Bagby Hot Springs on Saturday and then climbing at Ozone on Sunday. I'd never been to Bagby before but I'd heard a lot about it. Janel and I had tried to get up there the previous winter on my motorcycle but the road conditions stopped us when we were about five miles away. This time we were in a car and the roads were clear. The hike in to the hot springs was a little more than a mile. I'd heard that the springs were more built up than the simple pools at Cougar Hot springs, and I was excited to see how it all worked. The mechanism, basically, is that 138-degree water bubbles up from a spring like this:
A concrete 'ramp' was poured around the spring to control the water and allow it to flow into a wooden trough:
The troughs bring the water along a course to the bathhouses:
The troughs provide the water first to a series of tubs carved from large tree trunks on the upper level and then to larger group baths on the lower level. Janel and I used one of the older, upper troughs:
The flow is controlled simply by sticks that are jammed into the hole where the trough empties into the tub. In order to control the temperature, you use a 5-gallon pail to bring cold springwater in for balance. After soaking for a very enjoyable half hour, we emptied the tub and decided to go on a short hike in the woods. Here's Janel on the trail ahead of me:
At one point we found a strange fungus that looked like gel candies attached to a log:
After hiking for awhile we returned to the car and drove home. On the drive we followed the beautiful Clackamas river and I began thinking about kayaking. Janel and I resolved to go for a whitewater run the following weekend. Anyway, Sunday at Ozone was Janel's first time climbing outdoors and it went really well. We climbed several good moderate routes, including Chaos (5.8), Dirty Jugs (5.9), Kung Fu (5.9) and Helm's Deep (5.9). I also managed to get a clean send of May Day (5.10c) before we left. The weather was perfect that day and a surprising number of people showed up. It's not really a surprise now that the secret is out. In my opinion, when Beacon Rock is closed, Ozone is by far Portland's best local crag.
So the next weekend, Janel and I ended up doing the same whitewater run on the Mollala that Jared and I had started with the previous year. Much like the prior run on this stretch of river, the water moved fast and there were enough obstacles to keep it interesting. Janel and I both wore wetsuits due to the cold water. We ended up having to portage at one point because a branch of the river that we had chosen had been clogged with downed trees. In the end we had a great time and I was really impressed with Janel. She picked it up right away and fearlessly navigated some challenging rapids. I expect we'll be doing more runs together later this season.
Hospice Update and my Hammered Dulcimer
As I mentioned in my previous entry about San Francisco, one of my reasons for driving down was to pick up a Hammered Dulcimer. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it's a celtic musical instrument with a very sweet sounding tone. Check out this video of someone playing one. Also, this video of one being played with household items is very good and humorous. Anyway, I decided to get it because I've been interested in learning a new instrument and also as a treat for my hospice patients. After sitting down with mine, tuning it, and starting to play, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Here's a picture:
I've brought it along with me for my last two hospice visits and it has come across really well at the center. I usually just play for my patients but sometimes there are others in the room too. Once a group of people even started to sing along. I've never been 'the musician' before, so it was fun to be creating music on my own for the enjoyment of others, even if it was just songs like 'She'll be comin' round the mountain' and 'You are my sunshine' :-) More generally, my hospice visits have been going well and both of my patients seem to be pretty stable. Sometimes it's challenging to keep the negative vibes away, but on almost every visit I feel like I'm doing good and helping them.
Jeff Mangum and the Diary of Anne Frank
On April 18th and 19th Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel fame was to play at the Crystal Ballroom here in Portland. Jared had purchased two tickets (one for himself, and one for his friend Jay who was living with us at that time). I wanted to get tickets as well but both dates were sold out within a week. As it turned out, Jay became sick and Jared offered me Jay's ticket since he wouldn't be going. I was dumbfounded. I had convinced myself that this was a performance I could miss, that having the album was enough for me... but now that I knew I was going, I realized that I might end up witnessing something great. I was excited, to say the least. Jared and I arrived just before Jeff went on stage. He sat down in the center by himself, with no backing musicians. He was very polite in his remarks to the crowd and started his set with Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2!! I immediately realized that this was going to be one of the most amazing performances I'd ever see in my life. The highs that he hit were unbelievable, and the meaning of the lyrics of many tracks from In The Aeroplane Over the Sea became much clearer to me.
I'd previously described the album as "... a hymn to the beauty inherent in all human experience, 'good' or 'bad'." I still find this to be an apt description, but the depth of feeling and the tragic beauty of the story were pressing even more heavily on me as I heard him screaming into the microphone. After an hour of heartrending songs he finished, and we were left without regret, except perhaps at the rather short duration of his set. I resolved to look into obtaining a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank which was an inspiration for that album and apparently Jeff's favorite book.
On the first night that I started reading it, I stayed up until after 2pm and finished half of it. Although it starts rather pedantically (she is only 13, after all), the events that occur and the uniqueness of the story had me hooked. I was surprised to find that the bulk of the content relates not to the war, or to the plight of the Jews, but rather to the interactions between the eight people in hiding in the secret annex of her father's office building. Through the observation of these people, and of herself, she grows rapidly, and in the span of only two years becomes incredibly wise in her appraisal of human nature. Much of the latter half of the book is so beautiful and humbling that I didn't know what to make of it. When I was her age I was showered with praise for my academic exploits, but in reality I wasn't even close to as aware and wise as this young girl. The end comes abruptly, and with the knowledge of what actually happened, the reader is left to mourn the tragic death of such a beautiful person, and the deaths of the millions of others that came as a result of unimpeded hatred running rampant in Europe at that time, and ultimately mourn the deaths of all people killed by the malicious acts of others throughout history. I was profoundly affected by this read, to say the least, and I highly recommend that you read the book if you haven't already.
The Ridiculous Red Rock Adventure
At some point in April I had a phone conversation with Ivan where we spontaneously decided to plan a trip to Red Rock Canyon in Nevada for some uber-epic rock climbing. I bought my plane ticket and forgot about my plans until a week prior, when the obvious question of "What am I going to climb?" arose. After contacting a local climber for recommendations, I learned that the Black Velvet Wall was likely to be our best bet for avoiding the sun. Little did I know that this place is considered by many to be the premier wall of Red Rock! So while I had thought we might perhaps do a few moderate multi-pitch routes, up to perhaps 1000 feet, I became really excited by the prospect of climbing the ultra-classic Epinephrine which is 2000 continuous feet of 5.9 climbing. In addition to this, we decided to climb Dream of Wild Turkeys (5.10a, 7 pitches, 800 feet) as a warm up route the day before Epinephrine in order to familiarize ourselves with the area. In all of my research on Epinephrine before leaving, the aura around the route and the seriousness of the commitment needed to climb it forced me to draw up courage and inspiration. Much of this ended up coming from Anne Frank.
So on Thursday, May 3rd, I did a hospice visit in the afternoon, spent some time with Janel in the early evening, and caught the Max Red Line to the airport. Unfortunately I barely made the train and didn't have time to grab a ticket. Although I'd never failed to buy a ticket before and I'd never been checked, this was an unlucky day and I got hit with a $175 fine. Ouch! I knew I couldn't let it get to me. I had to keep my spirits high in order to ensure the success of the trip. My flight to Vegas was uneventful and I arrived at around 11:30pm. Ivan picked me up and we drove to grab some snacks and then to the campsite he had secured earlier in the day. I was amazed how close Red Rock Canyon is to Vegas. Only a couple miles after leaving the sodium lighted streets of the 'burbs, you arrive at the turn for Moenkopi Road, where the campground is. We immediately went to sleep and set our alarms for 6:30am. After a challenging night's rest (made much better by Animal Collective), we awoke and left for the trailhead. On the drive there I got my first glimpse of Red Rock Canyon and the towering rock faces looked impressive. Here's Mt. Wilson, home to some of the longest routes, illuminated by the sunrise:
To get to Black Velvet Canyon we had to drive about 25 minutes on paved roads and then another 40 minutes on a dirt road that was a nightmare for Ivan's old BMW. We then parked and hiked the 45 minutes or so to the base of the route. Here's a view of Black Velvet Canyon from near the trailhead:
Here's a view of Black Velvet Wall on the approach:
And here's the view from the base of the wall with Dream of Wild Turkeys in green and much of Epinephrine in Red:
As you can see, the wall is very intimidating and yet majestic. I was awestruck that we were going to climb directly up the middle of it. After we got our rack ready, Ivan led the first short pitch to the ledge before the right-angling crack. I'd read that this crack was one of the classic pitches so I was excited to lead it. At first I definitely had a few butterflies in my stomach about being on trad lead, but after making a few moves I settled in and really started enjoying myself. The pitch was challenging but not too bad, and the gear was great. There were even a few unnecessary bolts next to the crack in spots, not sure why. Here's a really nice picture of this pitch taken by a famous climbing photographer named Blitzo:
The next pitch Ivan led. It involved climbing straight up for about twenty feet from the belay and then traversing right for another fifty feet at a line of bolts. This traverse was really cool. After this there was a fist crack before the belay. I took over here and led the crux pitch. It followed the fist crack as it became smaller and smaller and eventually ran out. At this point there were two bolts protecting the 5.10a face moves to the next anchor. Although I screwed up the sequence, the grade was easy enough that I could adjust my feet by pulling harder on the handholds. The next pitch was also 5.10a and involved thin face climbing up to a seam. The final pitch was pretty easy and I led it up to a large ledge. Here's a picture of Ivan following our last pitch:
The route continues for several more pitches to the top of the wall, but most parties rappel from this point, and this was our plan as well. The rappel was barely possible with my single 80 meter rope. We had to rappel over the top of a pair of climbers on the nearby route Prince of Darkness, but they were nice and didn't mind too much. Here's a picture of Ivan finishing the final rappel at the base of the route:
Ivan and I had a wonderful time on Dream of Wild Turkeys and felt renewed optimism about climbing Epinephrine the next day. At the same time, we were quite tired and desperately in need of calories. We took a two hour nap back at the campsite before heading into Vegas to get some Thai food at an amazing (!!!) restaurant called Pin Kaow Thai Restaurant. Highly highly recommended if you're ever out that way! When we returned to the campsite it was almost 10pm and Ryan, Keane, Pru, Brian, and Liz had arrived. We chatted for a bit with them about their plans for the next day before hitting the sack.
We awoke at 4:45am and quickly loaded ourselves into Keane's subaru (Ivan was very happy he wouldn't have to drive on that dirt road again) and drove to the Black Velvet Canyon parking lot in much quicker time. We got there at around 5:30am and started the hike in. It was already light out. Unfortunately there were two other cars already in the parking lot and we were concerned they might be going after Epinephrine as well... Anyway, Ryan and Keane were planning on doing Dream of Wild Turkeys on our recommendation, so they were heading in basically the same direction. Since we had been there the previous day we knew the way and made better time on the approach as well. When we arrived at the base of Epinephrine, we discovered that there were already two parties on the route!! And another party was getting ready to start, but we managed to leapfrog them by soloing a 5.4 variation of the first pitch. We put our game faces on and resolved to try to climb as quickly as possible. Not just to leapfrog other groups, but also because we had such a long day ahead of us and needed to finish before dark. Here's the topo that we followed for the climb:
Instead of the 60 feet of 5.8 past three bolts for the first pitch, we soloed a short section of 5.4 to the right and traversed back over on the bushy ledge. At this point I racked up and began climbing, intending to link the next 110' 5.7 and the 150' 5.8 pitches into one super-long pitch. I immediately noticed that the climbing was different than it was the previous day on Dream of Wild Turkeys. Instead of being over-bolted, the bolts were quite spaced out, and the nature of the climbing was much more adventurous. Both of these things I liked. The way I see it, as long as the climbing is going to be significantly below my limit, I'd rather there be less bolts so that I can get into the flow of climbing more, and not have to worry so much about protection. This also helped us to move faster. Another thing I noticed was the the rock was not at all greasy. It seemed that despite the large number of people who have climbed this classic before, the red rock sandstone holds up well to human traffic. Anyway, the two pitches were very enjoyable and went quickly. On the 5.8 pitch there was an easy chimney in which I placed almost no protection for about 70 feet because I felt so secure. When I arrived at the second pitch belay there was a party using the bolted anchors, so I setup a trad anchor slightly lower and belayed Ivan up. Here's what the next pitch, the first 5.9 chimney, looked like from below:
(Not my picture)
It was Ivan's turn to lead, and with the chimneys quickly becoming clogged with the four parties, I asked him to try and link the next two pitches if possible to leapfrog the party ahead of us. He agreed to try. As it turned out, the chimneys were more strenuous than we expected, and Ivan took quite awhile on lead. He appeared to get really winded and later reported that he even felt like vomiting from the intensity of the climbing. Instead of climbing the next two pitches, he climbed the first and then half of the second, arriving at an intermediate anchor in the middle of the second pitch (see topo). He belayed me up and I got a taste of what 5.9 chimneys are all about. Here's a picture I found online of this section of chimneys:
(Not my picture)
Because of my experience with jamming cracks, I was able to make more use of the hand and fist jams in the back of the chimney and it appeared to be a bit easier for me (also, I wasn't leading!). One very unfortunate thing happened, however, and that is that the nozzle on Ivan's camelbak got caught on something as I was climbing and snapped off. The entire contents of the camelbak were emptied and we were left with only a quarter liter of water to share for the remainder of the day!! Although I thought it might be foolish, we decided to continue on. Now it was my turn to lead and I resolved to finish all of the chimneys and get us to the top of Black Tower. On the second half of the second chimney I struggled at one point and had to make a balancy move with a potentially injurious fall because I had made a bad decision about which side of the split chimney to take. After this I made my way up to the anchors before the third chimney pitch and clipped them. At this point I was leading past the second team and there was only one more party ahead, and they were far enough ahead that it wouldn't affect us. Happy day! I had a little bit of apprehension heading into the final chimney pitch because I had read about how airy and runout (long way between protection) it was. As it turned out, it was somewhat airy and there was about 20 feet between bolts, but I felt relatively secure and absolutely loved it! Here's a picture I found online of this final chimney:
(Not my picture)
As you can see, the rope is going down a loooong way to the last piece of protection. After I finished the chimney, I emerged onto the top of the Black Tower and setup an anchor to belay up Ivan. Another unfortunate thing occurred while Ivan was following the last chimneys. He accidentally bumped his head into the rock and his Contour HD camera detached from his helmet and fell hundreds of feet to the base of the climb. Bummer! Ivan didn't let it bother him and soon enough he joined me and we got started on the stellar upper pitches of Epinephrine. At this point it was about 10:30am and we were making much better time than we expected, considering the other parties that we were grappling with. The first pitch in the sun was an enjoyable 5.7 romp up incut edges. Ivan continued to the top of the Elephant's trunk before stopping to belay me. From this point we had a great vantage point from which we could see the entire Black Velvet Wall, including Ryan and Keane working on the upper pitches of Dream of Wild Turkeys below us. Here's a shot taken from this belay. Ryan and Keane are circled in red:
The next two pitches, which I was planning on linking, were both 5.9. Here's what it looked like to stare up at them from the Elephant's Trunk:
At the end of the second 5.9 pitch I arrived at small shaded ledge. Here's a picture I took of Ivan as he approached the belay:
As you can see, we were getting quite high by this point. The next pitch, which Ivan led, was only 5.7. Ivan, clearly feeling very confident, probably only placed like four or five pieces of protection in the 160 foot pitch. After I followed him I realized that I was going to get to lead the amazing 5.9 roof pitch up ahead. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from this pitch, but each of the roofs was exhilerating to lead. As I made the moves to surmount the roofs, I was able to look down and see 1400 feet of air underneath me. Can you say exposure?! Epinephrine kept getting better and better! After I pulled the last roof I found myself on a very large and comfortable ledge for the belay. Here's a look down the Black Velvet Wall from our perch:
Notice the black dots on the Black Velvet Wall far far below. Those are actually people. Ryan and Keane are two of three in the cluster of dots toward the top-right. And here's the view of Las Vegas in the distance that had recently come into view:
Notice the dirt road on the right. If you look really closely, you can even see cars in the parking area at the end of the road. The final roped pitch that Ivan led was also only 5.7. At one point he climbed for about 60 feet without placing any gear! He climbed to the end of the rope and put me on belay. Once I reached him we both unroped and tackled the 400 feet of ramps that finish Epinephrine. Climbing unroped this high off the ground was somewhat unnerving, but the ease of the climbing allowed me to feel secure. After we turned a corner we spotted the final ramp to the pine tree, and it looked hairy! Here's Ivan surveying it:
At a couple spots after this point there were 5th class moves with death consequences so we did short-rope belays. After this, we were done!!! There was no time to celebrate, though, because we were completely dehydrated and not looking forward to the descent, which was slated to take between 2 and 3 hours. Fortunately we did not get lost and managed to descend safely, but it was a suffer-fest and very hard on our bodies. Once back at the parking lot we located Keane's car and discovered a liter of water inside!! We also downed a redbull and relaxed until they returned an hour or so later. That night we took everyone to the same Thai restaurant and we feasted. After this we drove the 4 hours back to Los Angeles to culminate our Epic 22 hour day!
I spent the following day at Ivan's new apartment in Pasadena. He had recently moved from Pasadena Gateway Villas into a place on Mar Vista just North of the freeway. One very important item that remained unfinished was the transfer of my wall of albums and music posters. Setting it up is always a time-intensive endeavor, and this time we didn't have a good theme to work with. Shortly after we started on it, though, someone came up with the idea of creating a heart out of the vinyl and having the album covers and posters form the backdrop. Once we had the idea it took about three hours to finish. Here's a look at the new incarnation:
The following day I woke up super early to catch a 6am flight at LAX. At 10am I had to give a training class at OHSU, so it was a pretty intense morning! After my training class was finished I went onto MountainProject to record my ascents of DoWT and Epinephrine and I noticed a strange forum post on the front page. "Found: Helmet Cam at Base of Epinephrine". Incredulous, I opened the link to discover that someone had located Ivan's helmet cam, and it miraculously still worked! Ivan contacted the poster and the dude shipped the camera without payment, unreal! Hopefully I'll have some worthwhile videos to share from the chimneys when I get a copy!
***Videos from Epi Chimneys***
After returning from California I only had two more weeks of work at OHSU before my departure date. One of the major events that I had been looking forward to all year fell within this timeframe, and that was Bassnectar's stop in Portland on his 2012 tour. For those of you who are not familiar with Bassnectar, he is one of the more popular dubstep artists. Unlike most genres where my personal tastes tend to clash distinctly with the mainstream, I find myself more in agreement with consensus in the world of Dubstep. Bassnectar in particular is probably my favorite artist, and if there was any doubt before this concert, there certainly wasn't any afterward. This tour was in support of his new album, Vava Voom, which I listened to at work the day of the show. There are many killer tracks on this album. Here are a couple of my favorites:
He played to a (relatively) small crowd of about 400 at Roseland Theater in downtown Portland. I went over with Romi and the energy was killer from the start. The opening act, Vibesquad, was pretty solid, but he played for a long time and everyone there was getting anxious for Lorin to take the stage. After a somewhat lengthy intermission, he finally did, and then proceeded to absolutely slay the audience with unbelievable bass texture for two and a half hours!! Here's a picture of Lorin working his magic:
The audience was absolutely loving it, and his positivity, stage presence and insane tracks kept things rocking all night. Of course, part of the fun is in the energy of the crowd. There were a lot of really colorful people there that night:
The intensity of the show was as high as anything I'd ever witnessed. I don't know how many decibels it was, but my head was ringing for about half a day after the show. He pulled out all of the stops, played every track I knew, and gave everyone exactly what they came for:
It was such a long set that at some point in the middle, I sort of re-baselined and came to the conclusion that this was what my life was like now :-) Towards the end of the set, he threw down his colorstorm mix, complete with the visual effects, basically a storm of color:
The audio is basically just textured bass, and of course no phone can capture it, but here's a youtube video from this part of the set:
In the end, I had an absolutely incredible time, and it was certainly one of the best concert experiences I've ever had. I look forward to future Bassnectar shows, and really hope he makes an appearance at Burning Man!
Basketball and the Market Street Ballerz
During my last few weeks at OHSU I agreed to play for a basketball team in the OHSU recreation league comprised of workers from my building. I was originally skeptical as to the level of play, but as it turned out, the competition was actually pretty good and we had to work to win games. I was a bit frustrated with the lack of game sense among members of my team, but I was still able to have fun and became one of the leading scorers on the team. I hadn't played serious basketball in a long time, so it was nice to see how quickly my skills returned to me. I bought a new pair of basketball shoes and outside of the league I began to play some street ball games at the park blocks downtown. I've been playing street ball since I was about 14 years old, and I've seen a lot of different styles and attitudes, but I've never seen anything like the street ball in Portland. The people are far more colorful than normal, and there is a lot of positivity. Even if you miss all of your shots, your teammates will still pass you the ball, and encourage you to shoot. I was having a bad game once, and my teammate, who was far better than me, kept encouraging me to take open jumpers. "I believe in you, man!!" he said. This positivity made the games far more fun and actually the quality of the gameplay was really high. Passing was vastly more common than in any street ball game I'd ever played in as well. Strangely enough, this simple aspect of Portland was the start of a re-orientation of my opinion of the city. I slowly began to look at Portland more seriously as a place to eventually call my home. As for the Market Street Ballerz, we made the playoffs, but the final day of games occurred during my trip to Zion to be described shortly.
Henry Hagg Lake and Sherwood
The Sunday after the Bassnectar show, Janel and I decided to take the motorcycle out for a ride to a park on a lake outside the city on the Southwest side of Portland. It was a clear day and the drive out there was really enjoyable. We passed several groups of other motorcyclists who were clearly enjoying the weather as well. When we arrived at the lake we decided to try and find a more secluded place along the banks, so we headed to the far side and scanned the roadside for pullouts devoid of cars. We eventually spotted one that looked sufficient and parked the bike. We hiked through a meadow before coming to a mountain bike trail. We crossed it and came to a footpath that snaked along the perimeter of the lake. Surprisingly, all of the nice picnic spots on the various peninsulas into the lake were overrun with families that had driven boats to them and anchored. We spent probably two hours searching for a good spot before deciding to get back on the bike to explore another area. We drove toward the dammed side of the lake and found a nice picnic area that wasn't too overcrowded. We secured the picnic table at the top of a small hill and had a late lunch. We then decided to go for a swim and we jumped into the lake from a stump near our picnic table. It was pretty cold but definitely tolerable as long as you kept moving. We both remarked that it was somewhat unusual to be enjoyably swimming in a lake in Oregon in mid-May. Here's a picture of the lake:
After swimming for awhile we jumped back on the bike and exited the park. I decided to make my own route back to Portland and I randomly chose a path through the countryside. For some time my path coincided with the Vineyard and Valley scenic route. In this section I was once again surprised by the beauty of the Oregon countryside, especially as I crested a hill and was presented with a graniose view of Mt. Hood in the distance:
Okay, so that wasn't really the view that we got, but I couldn't find a more realistic picture on google images and I didn't have my camera that day... :-/ Here's a picture that is perhaps a bit more representative of the scenery that we encountered on this drive:
As we approached Portland it soon became apparent that our adhoc route was going to take us through Sherwood, which is the suburb where Janel grew up and her parents still lived. On a whim, we decided to stop by her parents house and surprise them. On our way we passed the highschool and other landmarks from Janel's youth. I laughed at the idea that we could be riding through Brighton instead.When we got to her parent's house they were just finishing cleaning their deck. We ended up staying for dinner and it was a really nice time. Janel decided to stay for the evening and I took off on my own after dinner to return home.
My Final Week at OHSU
The following week was my final one at OHSU. I gave another training course and prepared to hand off my responsibilities completely to Mike Street, who had stepped up internally to replace me in my capacity. On the Friday we took off early to grab a few drinks as a group at Cascade Barrel House and Roadside Attraction. I expected only a few people to be present, but about 10 people came. Everyone had really kind things to say about my impact on OHSU, which is also surprising considering how little I felt they needed me. It was a great afternoon but I had to leave after only a couple hours because I had to pack for my flight to Los Angeles...
Canyoneering in Zion 2012
After leaving OHSU, all of my energy became focused on my trip to Zion and the Grand Canyon. Ryan Tomaz and Brian Cornelius, who had been planning the trip, assured me that it was going to be one of the most epic outdoor experiences of our collective lives, and based on what I knew, I came to agree with them. I required a lot of gear for the trip, and this was going to be the first time I'd check a bag in a long time. The packraft which I had purchased was sent directly to Ryan, but I needed to bring my trad rack (for evening climbing) my other climbing gear for rappeling canyons, changes of clothes, my camping gear, and other miscellaneous stuff. I packed everything in my Sealline Drybag, which I was planning on using as my backpacking bag for the Grand Canyon part of the trip. I arrived at LAX at around 11pm and Ivan picked me up. When we returned to Pasadena we went to Ryan's place to get all of the gear together. The plan was for Ivan and I to drive separately in Ivan's BMW, and Ryan, Pru, Brian and Liz would take Brian's Subaru. The drive to Zion the following morning was uneventful and took around six hours. We also gained an hour by crossing the time zones. When we arrived we located our campsite in the watchman campground. It was only mid-afternoon when we arrived so Ivan and I decided to climb a route after dinner. Here's me racking up for the climb:
We settled on a two-pitch traditional line called Ashtar Command (5.9). It was located on a detached pillar of rock near the Mt. Carmel Tunnel and was positioned directly above the road:
As cars passed and noticed us, many stopped to take pictures. We could even hear people talking about how 'crazy' we were after dark when we climbed the second pitch by headlamp. The first pitch was my lead and it was a traditional crack with lots of additional sandstone features. It wasn't a gimme pitch but if I had had my lead head on straight it would have been no sweat. As it turned out it was a little challenging for me but I onsighted it nonetheless. Ivan then climbed it and started up the second pitch, which goes around the corner and then up to the slabby section above. The bolts on this pitch were quite spaced out, making it much more interesting than it otherwise would have been. Ivan greatly enjoyed it, and I agreed it was fun to follow. By the time we arrived at the top it was pitch black and we had to rappel in the dark. We had a few issues rappeling but we still made it back to camp by 10pm.
Day 1: Englestead -> Orderville -> Narrows
The next day was our first canyon. We were scheduled to tackle Engelstead canyon to Orderville canyon to the Narrows of the Virgin River. At around 6am we caught a charter shuttle at the visitor center and they took us to the trailhead on the top of the East Mesa which is accessed through the Mt. Carmel tunnel. The drive was a little over an hour and the driver was able to give us precise hiking directions to reach the start of the canyon, a hike that ended up taking about 30 minutes. I had expected a gradual decline in elevation into the canyon, and was quite surprised to emerge from the woods to find this:
The canyon had an initial drop of over 300 feet!! This required a three-stage rappel. The first rappel went to some hanging midway anchors (bolts in the wall) and the second to the top of a small waterfall. The final rappel was down the waterfall into a shallow pool of very cold water. Here's a view of what it looked like to drop over the edge into the abyss:
Going over the edge was really intense for me. I hadn't rappelled with a figure 8 device before, and this was going to be the tallest rappel of the entire trip! Nonetheless I pulled it off pretty smoothly and met Ryan at the halfway anchor:
The view down from halfway was pretty intense as well. Here's a look down:
In this picture you can see me standing at the bottom next to a gigantic mound of snow and ice. Considering the air temperature outside the canyon, it was amazing that this much ice remained. As it melted it was feeding the small waterfall down to the pool below. Here's a look down the waterfall:
And here's what it looked like above us at this point:
Here's a look at Ivan doing the final rappel of this section into the pool:
As you can see, the canyon was becoming much more slotted. The next rappel was one of the most beautiful of the day, and featured a carved out water-groove in the middle of a cathedral-like room:
Here's a close-up of me rappelling down the groove itself:
At this point the entire group was really psyched. Even though it had taken quite a bit of time to complete these first few rappels, we were doing well on time and were having an absolute blast. We couldn't believe how beautiful the canyon was. After this section the canyon opened up significantly and we even got some much needed sun:
As we continued walking the canyon narrowed again and we walked through several corridor-like sections:
After this the canyon continued to slot up again and we developed a new technique for negotiating these narrow sections called the 'Triumph du Fromage'. In the second picture Brian is demonstrating this complicated maneuver:
The next few rappels took us through a beautifully sculpted sandstone slot. Here's Liz admiring the fine grain of the rock:
And here's Pru as she came through the arch at the end of this section:
At some point Ryan was able to catch one of the blue-bellied lizards that inhabited the canyon. Here's an up close look:
And here are a couple shows that exemplify the texture of the sandstone:
Although I wasn't aware of it when it happened, apparently we ran into a rattlesnake around this time:
At some point we transitioned into Orderville Canyon. The walls of this canyon were taller and there was more water running down the middle:
After passing through some of these tall slots we arrived at a place where a couple large boulders had become lodged in the canyon. To pass this obstacle required the use of a fixed hand line to drop into a pool down below:
As we continued down Orderville we were continually presented with stunningly beautiful vistas. The height of the canyon continued to increase:
Eventually the quantity of water increased and our wetsuits became a more integral part of the experience. We enjoyed jumping into the pools and swimming in the cool water:
Shortly after this point the canyon connected to the Narrows. Jared, Rafaela and I had hiked much of the Narrows a few years prior and I knew that it was going to be a much more populated area (we didn't see anyone in either Englestead or Orderville). Nonetheless, the Narrows has lots more water which makes for a lot of fun swimming, er floating!
And in fact, the Narrows is not without its own beautiful sections, like this one:
Once we finished the narrows we caught one of the Zion shuttle buses to take us back to our campsite where we had dinner. The day had been pretty long and we returned at around 6pm. I had worn my five-fingers all day and the 12 or so miles of walking on stone had taken its toll on my feet, so rest was pretty necessary. We ate some dinner, and I played a few chess games with Ivan before bed.
Day 2: The Subway (Rest for Me)
The following day I badly needed to rest the arch of my right foot. Since I had already done the Subway with Jared and Rafaela I decided to sit the day out. Pru was going to join me, and in fact it worked out quite well since I had some work I needed to do anyway. Pru and I spent most of the day in town, soaking in the sun and views, chatting, and in my case getting some remote work done for my new life as a freelance contractor. It was actually quite a wonderful day for both of us. To assist the group I also shuttled them to the trailhead and back from the exit trailhead. This made the day easier on everyone. Because of how amazing the pictures Brian took of the subway were, I am going to go ahead and pretend I was a part of this canyon tour as well :-) The drive to the Subway is on the West Mesa, unlike the approach to Engelstead the day before. The West Mesa is covered with grassy fields and intermittent sandstone outcroppings:
The trail itself started in a field and approached a grove of pine trees. Here's the team getting started on the trek:
Apparently they spotted some wildflowers growing:
After passing through the forest the trail enters a massive area of slickrock. In this section you have to follow cairns (piles of rocks that people stack to mark trails) and the trailfinding can be somewhat challenging:
The scenery in this area is really beautiful and there are many sandstone cliffs and formations around:
The sandstone changes in color from white to deep orange/red as you progress. Here's Ivan overlooking an area where the color is transitioning:
Further down the sandstone develops a very interesting grain, almost like a wave. Ryan, with all his cunning, decided to surf the wave:
In fact everyone interacted with the beautiful slickrock in their own way:
Eventually the team spotted the start of the Subway canyon proper:
They decided to rappel down in a spot where they found some slings. As it turned out, there was a lot more water in the Subway than when Jared, Rafaela and I had done it. According to the group, this made it a lot more fun:
They found a family of frogs:
And of course there were many obstacles to overcome:
After playing in the water the entire morning they decided to take a snack break. Brian found an ideal location to stop, complete with automated cooling services:
As they proceeded they started to get into the namesake part of the canyon and things got really beautiful. Brian's camera was up to the task of capturing the colors and formations in this area:
As you can see, the water is really clear. Soon enough the subway-shape started appearing in the canyon walls:
And before long they entered the Subway proper:
And the iconic location with the log captured their attention as well:
But the beauty didn't stop there. The subway is a pretty long section, and perhaps the most beautiful parts were still yet to come!
In the middle of the subway is a short drop that requires a handline. Here's a view of the drop from above and a picture of Liz making her way down the line:
And just around the corner is perhaps the most beautiful place on this hike, and in Zion:
Of course I can only imagine how the team was doing by this point. Surrounded by beauty and enjoying an aquatic wonderland, they leapt and bounded off of rock shelves into the pools of water:
And finally they reached the end of the Subway where the river flattens out and the canyon widens:
After this point the hike persists for another 3 miles or so until you can hike up and out of the canyon. And of course I was there waiting for them when they finished. Exhausted, they were happy to be chauffered back to the campsite where Pru had dinner waiting for them. That night I spent a good amount of time away from the campsite laying down under the stars. There were many shooting stars that night and the air was very peaceful.
Day 3: Rest Day!
The next day we wouldn't be doing any canyons. The idea was to recover for the next two days of canyoneering, and also to eat lots of ice cream. We accomplished both of these goals without too much difficulty. In the morning we moved our camp to another campground and in the afternoon we spent most of our time in town. In the evening Ivan and I decided to do some more climbing in an area of the park called the Cerberus Gendarme. There were many classic climbs in this area and we did two of them: Cherry Crack (5.9) and Electrica (5.11 PG13). I led Cherry Crack first, which was basically a splitter hand crack. Here's a picture of the route I snagged from Mountain Project:
As you can see, it's long and it's so splitter that you can hardly see the crack from the distance. I had never done an Indian-Creek style route like this and I was surprised how sore my arms got from the continuous handjams. Nonetheless, they were so bomber that I had an absolute blast and the route was pretty cruiser for me. After this, Ivan decided to attempt a nearby bolted route called Electrica that had very spaced out bolts and was clearly very hard. He fell a couple times on the route but impressively completed it despite the thin slabby cruxes. I followed him on top-rope and only took one fall at the crux. I nearly climbed it clean... Unfortunately there's no pictures of Electrica online.
Day 4: Mystery Canyon
The quality of the canyons that we had done thus far was so impressive that we couldn't imagine anything better. Nonetheless, we had been told that Mystery Canyon was the guidebook author's favorite in Zion, and we had no idea what was in store for us. Like Engelstead, Mystery started on the East Mesa and we chartered another shuttle to be dropped off up there. Finding the entrance to Mystery canyon proved somewhat difficult and we actually got turned around and walked almost all the way to Observation Point by accident. Eventually we found the narrow trail down into the cleft that we hoped was Mystery. Here's the view prior to the descent:
Unlike the prior canyons, the descent into Mystery required more hiking and downclimbing than rappelling. Here's a couple of the downclimbing spots:
Actually at many of the downclimbing areas there were rappel rings, but most of us, and especially Ivan and I, were determined to downclimb whenever possible. This was just evidence of our climber nature. The walls of the canyon steepened and heightened as we went. We were constantly looking up for weaknesses and talking about the climbing potential of this area. We found a cool water streak that of course would be impossible to climb:
Pretty soon the canyon started slotting up and we came to our first mandatory rappel. Here's Ryan setting up the rope and Ivan and Liz simul-rappelling:
The next rappel looked impossible to downclimb at first, but once I rappelled it, I realized it was possible to climb, so I climbed up! It was a pretty long way, so I was glad not to fall:
The canyon got increasingly beautiful and slotted as we continued rappelling:
Even though Ryan wasn't as adamant about downclimbing everything as Ivan and I, he still pulled out some sick chimneying skills when he felt inclined:
After about four rappels we exited this slot and found ourselves in an area of many shades of sandstone. Ivan and I scrambled up to a ledge for a good photo op:
After hiking for another half an hour or so we came across a place where there was a freshly exposed set of sandstone layers that were brightly stratified. It was an amazing place:
As we continued the canyon continued to be incredibly beautiful and unique. In fact, it felt nothing like any of the prior canyons. Eventually we reached the longest and most scenic rappel in the canyon. Here's a pair of shots, one looking down the rappel, and the other looking up from the bottom:
The pool of water at the bottom of the rappel was sheltered by an overhanging roof of red sandstone. Below the roof there was water seeping out of the rock and many plants were growing in this sort-of hanging garden:
A little further down the canyon we reached the place where Mystery intersects the Narrows. We had passed this place on Day 1 and were curious if it was in fact the exit of Mystery.The rappel into the narrows was about 130 feet long and included a dozen or more spectators. At one point we were called the badasses of Zion :-) Here's a picture of most of the group at the top of the final rappel:
And here's a shot of Liz going first on the rappel, with about 15 people watching below:
I really enjoyed this rappel. The moss on the rock was really slippery and so it was hard to keep it together and not look like a total pony in front of the spectators. After we finished the Narrows we caught the shuttle back to camp and ate curry for dinner. Then Ivan and I decided to head back to the Cerberus Gendarme, this time with Ryan and Pru. Ryan led a 5.9 called Tails of Flails that looked really fun. It was basically a chimney with a ring-lock crack in the back. I decided to attempt a 5.10+ route called The Fat Hedral. This was going to be one of my most challenging trad leads to date. The route took me a long time to climb because each of the cruxes was very beta-intensive and I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how to make forward progress. The variety of crack sizes and climbing styles was really great. There were a few offwidth sections and a couple places where the face holds on the outside of the dihedral were necessary to advance. There were a couple spots where I felt like I almost fell, but amazingly I powered through for the onsight. Here's a look at the route:
Because it took me so long to climb, the sun had already started to set, and Ivan lowered me off without having me clean my gear. This ended up being a pretty big mistake since the rope pushed some of the pieces further back into the crack. When Ivan arrived at my #1 camalot and #2 link cam up high, he was unable to clean them. After finishing the route (which was challenging for Ivan, since he doesn't like jamming), I hurriedly ascended the rope to attempt to extract my cams. I was able to get the #1 camalot out without too much trouble, but the #2 link cam was stuck beyond retrieval. I spent about 10 minutes trying to get it out and eventually I broke the trigger wires, rendering it hopeless. It was really sad to leave it behind since it was a birthday present from Rafaela, but it had nearly gotten stuck on a few occassions before and it wasn't terribly surprising in the end. After I came down we hurried down and caught the second-to-last shuttle out of the park.
Day 5: Pine Creek Canyon
On the final day in Zion the group tackled Pine Creek Canyon. Since my foot was still hurting and I had more work to do, I decided to sit this one out as well. I didn't want to compromise my ability to do the Grand Canyon. In addition, since I wasn't joining them, I was once again able to shuttle them to the beginning of the canyon and save everyone a lot of time. I checked into the hotel that we were staying at that night (so everyone could shower before the drive to Arizona) and commenced my work. Since I haven't done Pine Creek I am not as familiar with the route, but here are some of the best pictures from this beautiful canyon:
As you can see, the canyon had quite a bit of water in it. The team reported that the water was the coldest they'd encountered yet, and so it was somewhat uncomfortable.
This rappel looked like a lot of fun:
The sandstone formations in the slot look like some of the most sculpted in Zion:
As they continued the terrain remained slotted and beautiful:
Here's a picture of the final rappel, which was mostly free-hanging and apparently one of the coolest in Zion:
On their way out of the canyon they spotted this little guy:
After they finished the canyon we all met up at the hotel and got cleaned up before heading into town for some Thai food. While we were there we got a picture of all of us at the park entrance sign:
Notice my classic tourist pose. Zion once again proved itself to be one of the top National Parks in this country. I can't believe how much there is to explore there and how unique each of the canyons are. With the quality of climbing and hiking, the extremely consistent weather, and the shuttle service it is certainly deserving of a visit from everyone! That night Ivan and I played a bunch of chess, we shared a few beers, and we made ice-cream floats with lindemans framboise. We all slept very soundly.
Day 6: Transit Day
The following day we drove from Zion to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Once again it was Ivan and I in one car and the rest of the crew in the other car. Here's our last view of Zion canyon from one of the windows in the Mt. Carmel tunnel:
Ivan and I were to head directly to the South Rim where we would meet Colin Loveness and Keane. We would then pack and consolidate our gear while we waited for Brian who was dropping the remainder of the crew and gear off in Navajo territory at the entrance to Big Canyon. When we arrived Colin and Keane were not there yet but they soon showed up. We spent about an hour packing and organizing before Brian arrived. We then loaded Brian's car and took off for Navajo Territory. The Navajo landscape was incredibly barren and beside the dirt tracks cut into the Earth by vehicles, there was little out there. Here's a look across Navajo land toward Big canyon:
Our goal for this trip was highly ambitious. We were intending to canyoneer down Big Canyon to where it meets the Little Colorado River, then float/hike down the Little Colorado to the Colorado River, then inflate some rafts that we had brought and raft the Colorado before packing up and hiking out of the Grand Canyon via the Tanner Trail. Here's a map of the bulk of this trip:
In order to do this we needed permits from both the Navajo Nation as well as the Grand Canyon. In fact, rafting the Colorado River unguided requires a wait of over 10 years!!! Packrafting, which was our method, is the only way around this restriction. As you can imagine, we were all very excited to get started, and the sense of adventure in this trip exceeded everthing in Zion. Many of us were skeptical that this trip could be as beautiful as the Zion portion of the trip, but amazingly, it exceeded all of our expectations. When we arrived at the start of Big Canyon the group spent about an hour organizing all of our gear into our packs. We needed to make sure everyone had everything they needed to survive three or four days of rough terrain. Since weight was a huge concern many things were left behind, such as tents, sleeping pads, etc. Most of us just brought a light sleeping bag and intended to sleep under the stars. Once everything was packed, we decided that with so much daylight remaining, we should get started on the hike to Big Canyon. Unfortunately we didn't have explicit information on which direction to go, so we entered the nearest depression, hoping it would lead us to the canyon without too much difficulty. Here's the group as we got started:
The hiking was completely off-trail and required lots of exploration to find our way around obstacles. Although we always had the ability to rappel if absolutely necessary, we usually found ways that didn't require it. Here's a spot where we had to do a friction traverse:
And here we needed to do some down-climbing:
I really enjoy the problem-solving aspects of canyoneering, and since this route had so rarely been taken it really felt like we were doing things that very very few people have ever done. I commonly went out ahead of the group to scout the various options for tackling obstacles. At one point it seemed like we were approaching a cliff so I went ahead to explore and found that our sub-canyon was not Big Canyon, and in fact the drop into Big Canyon was a few hundred feet, much further than any of the ropes we had could possible allow us to rappel. Here's a picture of me at the ledge, unsure of how to proceed:
Looking to the left and right of me, I couldn't see anywhere that a rappel could be setup or that we could hike to continue. It appeared that we had entered the wrong sub-canyon and now we'd have to hike four hours back to the car to start again! We were all really bummed, but we didn't see any other options. Undeterred, Ivan decided to climb over the buttress to the right to see if there was anything that could be done. He reported that he believed a rappel might be possible down a chimney he had found. I was skeptical but I followed him and took a look. I was surprised to find that the chimney looked completely possible to rappel, and not only this but at the bottom of the chimney there was a scree slope that should take us conveniently down to the stream-bed at the very bottom of Big Canyon! I had Ryan come over to confirm, and he agreed that it was worth a shot. Here's Ivan setting up the rappel anchor:
And here's a look down into Big Canyon from our rappel spot:
As it turned out the rappel wasn't nearly as long as it appeared from the top. We all safely made it to the bottom and then started hiking toward the stream bed. It took another hour to get down, but we were pleasantly surprised by the softness of the sand and gravel we found there. It was the perfect place to camp! We made dinner and chatted for a bit before retiring to bed. As it got dark, Brian took this picture of the moon coming over the ridge above us:
Day 7: Big Canyon and the Little Colorado River
In the morning we awoke early and packed up. Here's the group ready to start the trek down Big Canyon:
At first the hiking was gently downhill and relatively easy. The temperature wasn't too hot and we enjoyed looking for cool rocks in the stream bed. Here's a picture of Ryan trudging along:
As we proceeded the canyon got narrower and rockier. We also spotted some ominous clouds on the horizon:
The forecast reported a 20% chance of rain, which we felt was minimal enough to proceed as planned, but we were still cautious about flash flood potential. As we walked many of us were looking out for small rocks to take home with us. There were all sorts of different textures on the canyon walls:
I even found a small piece of petrified wood at one point. Eventually the canyon actually became marble! It's the white rock seen in these two pictures:
I couldn't imagine hiking down a marble canyon, but that's exactly what we did for the next hour or so. The canyon continued to get more beautiful:
As you can see, I found a spot to do some impromptu crack climbing. With my heavy pack and hiking shoes, it wasn't easy! A little further down the canyon we found a boulder that appeared to have been part of a cave system. It had stalagtites and other strange formations inside of it:
Shortly thereafter we came to the first rappel in Big Canyon, and it was much more exciting than we expected. Since the canyon had been so dry up to this point, we never expected that we might be rappelling into a deep pool, but at the bottom there was a spring coming up from underground and this is what we were presented with:
If you look closely you can see Pru rappeling at the top-right. Once you landed in the pool you had to swim for about 80 feet to the shore. How fun! The next rappel after this was down a serpentine and mossy watercourse that led to an emerald pool in the distance:
It was all so beautiful that we were having the time of our lives! Ivan and I managed to downclimb the next rappel and after jumping in the emerald pool we rested on the marble slab in the sun:
The rappel that we skipped came down a strange looking waterfall. It appears that the spring water was heavily mineralized, and the minerals were deposited at this waterfall for thousands of years, creating a massive fan shape:
The texture of the fan wasn't completely rock. It seemed to have lots of micro-organisms and mosses growing in it. Here's a close up of the bottom of it with Liz spelunking underneath:
Around this time we stopped for lunch and I got a few minutes of meditation in. We also discovered crystals sitting on the rocks in various places. They seemed to be salt crystals of some kind. We then proceeded down the next series of rappels, which also featured the mineral fans:
The final rappel was down the side of an amphitheater full of water. This area was incredibly beautiful:
After this rappel we followed the watercourse down a series of obstacles for another hour or so. Along the way we stumbled across more boulders with interested rock:
As we worked our way down toward the Little Colorado we were completely engrossed in each of the obstacles as they came. None of us had any idea what we were about to witness next. At some point I emerged from a thicket of cattails and other plants to be presented with perhaps the most beautiful scene I've ever come across in my life:
The Little Colorado River!!! OMFG! We couldn't believe that this place existed. As I beheld the beauty in front of me I had to question how it is possible that as I grow, more and more incredibly beautiful places continue to become known to me. When is it going to stop? Ever? Here's a look down river:
Our entire group was in awe. The water was the most unearthly beautiful cyan as you can see. Apparently this water is even more heavily mineralized, and it doesn't come from snowmelt or rain, but from a deep spring in the earth. The minerals in the water are deposited on all of the surfaces and create a strange white goo. This goo hardens over time and creates a strange plateau effect wherever the river loses elevation:
Fortunately these spots aren't too sharp and this allowed us to float down the river quite safely. The prospect of floating down this beautiful river for hours on end was almost more than we could handle. Ivan and I started for the rapids immediately and it was a ton of fun. Because of the water we weren't able to take too many pictures of this part of the adventure, but it was one of my favorite experiences on the trip. Unfortunately the parity in float-ability was pretty high between members of our group so we weren't able to make very rapid progress. Nonetheless, it's hard to get upset about anything in the midst of such scenic beauty. Here's a look at one of the bends in the river later in the day:
After a few hours of floating we realized that we were not making very quick progress. Because the water was undrinkable, we needed to make it to the Colorado River that day to pump water for folks who were running low. At some point we decided it would be faster to hike, so we exited the river and walked along a trail that skirted it. We made fast progress but it still took a few hours before we reached the confluence. In fact, most of the hiking ended up being in the dark and this made the routefinding very interesting. We setup camp along the banks of the Little Colorado and a group of three took off to go pump water. We made a delicious dinner and all of us fell asleep easily after such a long day.
Day 8: Rafting the Colorado River
In the morning we awoke to get the first good look at our surroundings:
Once we packed all of our gear away we started inflating the boats:
We were a bit incredulous that we were about to raft the Colorado River. Prior to the trip this was the day that everyone felt would be the best, and now that it was here, we were sort of in a state of disbelief that this was something we were actually going to get to do. We had done all the work of bringing our gear this far, and now we would have the chance to use it! Here's a picture of us as we launched the boats in the Little Colorado:
Soon enough we were on our way down the Colorado River. It was the most incredible feeling to have this privilege and to be boating down such a beautiful river in the midst of these surroundings:
Colin and I were in the beefy green boat and at first we had trouble steering when we were towing our packs. So instead we put the packs in the bottom of the boat and Colin and I sat on the edge of the boat so that we had an elevated vantage point and we weren't sitting in any water that we took on. At first we were a bit nervous about some of the larger rapids that we encountered, and we even portaged around one of them, but then we decided that the boats were up to the task and we resolved not to dodge any more rapids for the remainder of the day. The rapids themselves were really just large waves. There weren't many rocks to be concerned about, so it was actually a lot of fun to run them and experience the massive ups and downs of the water. Unfortunately we don't have any pictures of the rapids because of concern for the camera. Here's a shot of the river a bit further down canyon:
And here's Ryan and Pru enjoying themselves as we neared our destination six miles downstream:
All too soon we arrived at the bend in the river where the Tanner Trail starts:
This spot was really beautiful and provided the perfect place to stop for dinner. There were even some rapids just around the corner that we could play in to kill time before it was cool enough to start our hike out. Here's a picture of the rapids:
After testing the rapids we settled in for food and made the area our own little camp:
After resting for a few hours we packed up and started hiking. The idea was for Keane, Ivan and I to do the entire Tanner Trail in one push so that we could do the car ferry (which would take about 5 hours) before everyone else finished the next morning. The rest of the group would do the trail in two parts, half today and half tomorrow after sleeping. The goal was to have both the cars at the trailhead by the time the second group finished the hike. I knew that the trail was going to be challenging to complete all in one go, but I felt inspired to tackle this final obstacle before the entire trip was done. Here's a look at the start of the Tanner Trail:
Further up the landscape continued to change. The trail was small but amply marked:
Here's a picture of the second group around sunset:
And here's a shot that Brian took at the spot they chose to camp after it got dark:
Meanwhile, Ivan, Keane and I were stoicly pushing onward toward the rim in complete darkness. We decided to go by moonlight and not use our headlamps. In sections where the moon was behind a ridge it sometimes became difficult to see, but since we had gotten so far without them, we accepted the challenge to continue by our normal vision alone. Keane turned out to be an expert routefinder and was in the lead position for much of the hike. Ivan was struggling but since he had done absolutely everything the entire week, this wasn't completely unexpected. I felt really strong for the bulk of the hike, but as it got steeper and we had already been going at a rapid pace for four or five hours, I started really feeling exhausted. Oddly, my legs weren't terribly painful, but I was just so tired that I could fall asleep while standing up if I allowed myself. The last hour or so was truly brutal, and we had to support each other to make it. When we finished we were incredibly relieved. Carrying that 35lb pack up the Tanner Trail in one go was certainly one of the most difficult physical things I've ever done. We made it in about 5 and a half hours and passed out immediately.
Day 9: Exodus
In the morning the second group awoke around 5am to get started on the rest of the hike. Here's a shot of them a little after they got started:
Towards the top the foliage changes from mostly shrubs to short trees:
They arrived at the rim before Keane and I had finished the car ferry. We got back around 10:30am and found everyone together. This was the perfect opportunity for our trip finale photo opportunity. Here's the group of us, exhausted, and ready to head back to civilization after a week of the most amazing outdoor experiences of our lives:
All in all it was a fantastic trip, and I would like to thank Brian, Ryan and Liz especially for making it happen. I look forward to future adventures with this incredibly capable and fun group! And now for Summer!!!
Forward to Summer 2012
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