One of the things that Raf and I brought back from Europe was a new appreciation for good bread and stinky cheese. When we returned, I figured my days of eating these delicacies was over, since I remembered good cheese being super expensive in the states and good bread both expensive and very hard to come by. Fortunately, we discovered that Trader Joes has lots of good cheese for a reasonable price and a decent selection of breads. We also discovered that the Trader Joes brand beers were very European in their style and the only quality six-packs that you could still get for $6 reliably in Pasadena. As a result, many of our evenings in November and December were spent with good cheese and beer from Trader Joes, and this became a typical picture of me on evenings when I wasn't working:
On one such evening, my long-time friend Andrey from my childhood (see the first entry on this entire site) and his wife happened to be visiting from San Jose and they stopped by. Here's a picture of me showing and explaining my cam collection:
It was really great to see Andrey again and even though he had been married for a few years, I never had the opportunity to meet his wife. We spent several hours catching up and covering all sorts of good, intense topics. We decided that we should definitely meet up on any future business business trips of mine to San Jose.
In addition to the bread and cheese, two more things that Raf and I brought back from Europe were Spaetzle and Brezn. We had eaten Spaetzle a few times in Germany since it was always one of the few vegetarian things on the menu (it's basically German mac n' cheese). Also, oversized German Brezn (pretzles) were a staple of Octoberfest. As it turned out, making Spaetzle was a really involved process, and a lot of fun. It's basically a German pasta much like macaroni and cheese, except you make the pasta yourself by dripping the pasta dough into boiling water. At first the little nuggets of dough sink, but once they're cooked, they float to the top where someone can scrape them off with a strainer. Here's a picture of Rafaela and I working on the Spaetzle and Brezn:
The brezn were much easier and really fun to munch on while finishing up the Spaetzle. To make them, we first mixed and rolled the dough then shaped the dough into pretzles before submerging them briefly in a baking soda and water solution before baking. After about an hour or so we had finished our highly german and highly unhealthy meal. Final products:
The Spaetzle doesn't look terribly appetizing, but it was incredibly delicious. Especially since we decided to put some blue cheese and carmelized onions on top when we baked it.
In addition to the German food, our apartment became an incredibly festive place for the holidays. I made my signature bourbon egg-nog once again, and it came out even better this year than last. In addition, we were commonly throwing random get-togethers and listening to christmas music while munching on good bread and cheese. The holidays snuck up on us, as they typically do, and everyone went home. Ivan returned to France, Rafaela to Toronto, and Colin to Seattle. I was also planning on returning home to see my family but I ended up getting a plane ticket in early January. While I was in Pasadena alone I continued my work but also started adhering to a pretty string dietary and exercise regimen. My goal was to restore my body to form and properly rehabilitate my injuries with the goal of getting back into climbing. I discovered pretty quickly that my shoulders were more messed up than I had thought.
Over New Years I discovered the Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove. I was a huge fan and remember watching it in my room while sipping on some yummy egg-nog around that time. Otherwise the holidays were pretty uneventful for solitary me, but I looked forward to returning to Rochester and seeing my family.
I left for Rochester on the 5th and when I arrived there was a nice blanket of snow on the ground. I was really excited for Christmas this year since I had gotten some pretty nice presents for my family. The main one was a brand new Wii with the Wii Fit Plus and a bunch of games. This turned out to be a huge hit, and the whole family joined in to play the sports games together. My sister and I especially enjoyed playing Resident Evil 4, which is one of the best games I have ever played. It was like playing the main character in a horror movie, and it was pretty jarring at times. We could only play it for like an hour or so before we started getting too jumpy :-). My parents weren't too pleased that my visit had to be cut short at a week, but they understood that my work schedule was very demanding. I returned to Pasadena on the 13th.
A Break for Joshua Tree Hiking
I worked steadily through January until deciding to take a quick weekend getaway with Colin to Joshua Tree. Since I couldn't climb, we decided to do some of the hikes that I hadn't done in the park yet. As a guide for the hikes that we did, feel free to reference this map:
We left early on Saturday morning and entered the park through the Southern entrance. We knew that it was unlikely there'd be open campsites so we decided to hit the hikes first and worry about that later. We headed straight for the Cottonwood Spring parking lot where the Lost Palms Oasis trail starts. Although this trail is long, it is typically one of the more popular in the park since it connects two of the park's four oases. You've seen the Cottonwood Spring Oasis in previous chapters of this site, so I'll focus on the Lost Palms Trail. The trail is in the Colorado Desert portion of Joshua Tree so many of the flaura are different than what we'd typically see around the rock climbing areas in the Mojave Desert part. There's more Ocotillo and Cholla cacti, and there's less exposed rock, although there's still a fairly decent bit. The trail itself starts as a meandering path through washes and around outcroppings, but eventually starts descending through a series of clefts and ravines down toward the Lost Palms Oasis. It's about 8 or 9 miles round trip and I once did it without water when I was still recovering from my motorcycle accident. That was pretty stupid, however. Anyhoo, here's a picture of what the trail looks like towards the beginning:
Towards the end of the trail (about 4 miles in), you reach a point that overlooks the Lost Palms Oasis. There are several pockets of palm trees nestled into the cliff ledges as well as one main crescent-shaped set of palms below. A picture that accentuates the crescent shape is coming up. Here's a picture from the initial outlook:
After descending into the oasis you follow the stream that nourishes the palms through the crescent canyon. We were surprised to see well over a dozen people there. We also found a boulder that Colin climbed. It was rated about V15 I think:
After the impromptu bouldering, we climbed a nearby hill to get a shot of the crescent:
As we climbed Colin and I were really surprised at how friable the rock was. I knew that the quality of the rock decreased as you went south in the park, but it was getting ridiculous. You could literally pull the rock apart with your bare hands. At one point we found a massive flake of rock that I levered off quite easily. We were spooked to find a bat hibernating behind the flake. It was in a very deep slumber and didn't rouse:
After returning back to the oasis, I found a downed palm tree that I decided to shimmy up. It was super fun!
Here's a close up of a healthy Cholla cactus we found at the oasis. Quite prickly!
After finishing the hike, we drove North toward the main part of the park. As usual, we passed the Cholla gardens. This time, however, we decided to stop for old times' sake:
Further up the drive we passed Saddle Rocks where Ronen and I climbed Right On. Colin and I got out and walked up to the rock. We snapped this pic of a couple people attempting one of the face routes:
After checking out Saddle Rocks for a bit, the sun started getting low and Colin and I started looking for camping. As expected, everything in the park was full so we headed out to the town to stay at the Joshua Tree "Lake". We had a restful evening drinking brew and relaxing under the stars. In the morning, we decided that we would attempt to hike Queen Mountain. We knew that there was a dirt road that dead-ended near the base of the mountain (you can see it on the map), so we figured there must be a trail up there even though the map didn't show one. We drove to the end of the road and parked in a dirt lot with a couple other cars. At first we didn't expect there to be much of a trail, and after surveying the mountain for some time we decided to attempt it as shown in this picture:
As we approached the gully, we found a few cairns that indicated that an existing trail went this way. We didn't stay on the trail but we frequently ran across it. It took about 45 minutes to climb up to the shoulder of the mountain. At this point we realized that we still had a long way to go. As you can see from the following panorama, we had come a long way already!
There were some pretty good views and we weren't even nearly at the top. Also, the quality of the rock up here was really good. Instead of being crumbly like the rock from yesterday, there was a hard, dark varnish on all of the stone that made it really smooth, hard, and grippy. Here's a picture of me scrambling on some rocks with Mount San Gorgonio on the horizon:
By this point we were no longer following the trail and we just started doing some impromptu climbing to get past the rock obstacles between us and the summit. This was certainly the most fun part of the hike. Once we reached about 4500 feet we started finding tiny little pockets of snow here and there. Fortunately for us it wasn't nearly cold enough to snow that day, although it was pretty chilly in the wind. Here's a look toward the summit from about 3/4s of the way:
As you can see, the rock looks really nice and climbable, albeit a bit out of the way. After another twenty minutes or so Colin and I managed to make it to the top. We found a logbook in a plastic bottle that we signed and then we enjoyed the view. Here's a shot of Colin at the very top with the mountains and the Wonderland of Rocks behind him:
Colin and I decided that since the hike up had only taken us about two and a half hours, we could probably fit another hike in today if we raced down to the car. The descent was thus very fast and we didn't take any pictures. We ended up actually running a couple of miles together when it levelled out a bit. That was quite a good workout! The hike that we decided to do was the Lost Horse Mine. It was another popular hike that I had somehow never done before. Most people simply walk to the mine and then back, but we knew there was a large looping trail that would give us a view into the Colorado desert, so we decided to do the longer one. When Colin, James, Raf and I had been climbing in Joshua Tree the previous Spring, there was one day when we noticed a large cloud of smoke forming over near Lost Horse Valley. It turns out that the fire consumed much of the area around the Mine, as you can see in the following picture:
The hike to the mine was about three miles. The area and the mine itself reminded me greatly of the scenes in the beginning of 'There Will Be Blood'. Here's a picture of one of the mine wenches at the top of one of the main shafts:
Here's a shot of the nearby well. It looked really old-school. I wonder how far down they had to go to get water back in those days:
After checking out the mine, we continued on the loop. While there were many people on the trail to the mine itself, nobody else continued on the loop since it was long and had only a few additional landmarks. We decided to go ahead and do it anyway. Here's a picture of me walking along the trail overlooking the Colorado desert down below:
And the only thing we found of interest on the trail was an abandoned homestead of which there was only a chimney left:
The remainder of the hike was a grueling six or so miles snaking through a series of washes. The sandy footing made it all the more difficult. By the time we reached the car we had hiked well over 15 miles that day and our feet were incredibly sore. We decided that the only thing that would do us any good would be a stop over at Crossroads for some grub :-)
The Return of Ivan
Sometime in late January or early February, Dan moved out and into his new house in Eagle Rock with his fiance Katie. Ivan decided to move in, so for the millionth time we shuffled the rooms. Colin took the master bedroom, Ivan the mid-sized room, and I stayed in the smallest room. Ivan and I got along really well, although it was sad that I could no longer climb with him. Instead, we decided to pick up a new hobby to provide some healthy competition between us: Chess. Although I had played a lot of chess against my dad when I was younger, I hadn't played a game in years. Ivan and I started out making tons of blunders, but by the summer we were both getting pretty good. The best part was that Ivan and I were relatively evenly matched, which kept it interesting since we were both regularly winning games. We even got a chess clock so that we could play timed games, which adds another dimension of stress and requires very quick thinking.
Lake Tahoe 2010
In late February Colin and I planned a trip to Lake Tahoe for some snowboarding/skiing. I had a business trip to Oakland for CyPace at some point, and I got away early on a Friday. The weather was calling for a big storm, so I took off at 3 and just made it to Tahoe before they required chains on the roads. Meeting me there were Colin, his brother Ghyrn, Chris Bank, Martin and James Schilling, and David, a friend of Chris's. Everyone arrived far later in the evening due to the snow, most of them having to put chains on their tires. As it turned out, about 18 inches of snow fell that night, and the conditions were clear the following day. This was by far the most powder I'd ever boarded in, and it was an incredible experience. David brought his camera and snapped several shots of Chris that exemplify how nice the conditions were:
As you can see, Chris is quite the talented boarder. Most of my time on the mountain was spent cruising through the trees on the run called Pinnacles. It was basically an entire area near the top of the mountain where you'd get off the lift and head left along a catwalk. Then you could just dip off the catwalk at any time into the woods. There was a lot of land to explore and still plenty of fresh powder well into the second and third days. Here's a picture of Chris and I in the Pinnacles area:
The lodge that we were staying at turned out to be an incredible deal. We payed like $60 a night for a room that easily accomodated six people. It also had a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. We had a great time kicking back in that room after each day on the mountain. Thanks to the snowfall and the high quality of the alpine tree-skiing on Heavenly, I feel like I levelled up several times during this trip. It was also helpful to have Colin and Chris since their elevated skill levels pushed me to further my own. Even though I only went boarding on one trip this winter, it really couldn't have been any better than this one.
Forward to My Life as CyPace [Spring and Summer 2010]
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