pins and needles

 

We had been planning this trip for months.  Katie and I had mentioned going to the needles earlier in the summer to Gleason, and he seemed interested.  It was a good trio because none of us had ever been there before.  We tried to find a fourth, mostly in vain.   Most of the other people we asked had already been there, and didn’t seem to keen to go back.  They generally looked at us with a gleam in their eye that indicated some sweet memory that was just out of reach.  They would tell us how great the climbing was, how beautiful the trees were, how cool and improbable the lookout tower was…but they couldn’t quite find the drive to make it back.     Rudy came through as our “fourth” at the last minute, and together we  converged on the needles campground on a cool september evening.

To say that we’d been planning the trip for months, is probably an overstatement.  It would be more realistic to say that we were talking about it all summer, trying to find out information about the routes, the guidebook, and where you can get water in the vicinity.  Mostly I found all the available info couldn’t educate my “hands on” mind, so I decided that a trip to the needles shouldn’t need much planning.  Just throw a bunch of food and water in the back of the car and go!

As the summer progressed, and our departure became imminent , we learned that the needles had been closed due to a fire.  Initially the reports seemed to indicate that the whole place had gone up in smoke and only after the dust settled did we learn that only the lookout tower had burned.   However, a few weeks later we learned that the needles were re-opened, so we proceeded with our plan.

After all the talk, we were finally there, amongst the huge trees and expansive views.  But the needles were nowhere in sight.  We packed our bags with fat racks, ropes, and snacks and set out.  After a half-hour of walking, Eric looked back and said:  “this is the big moment, from here we can actually see the needles, and we’re about half-way through with the hike. ”

Soon we were in the shangri-la of granite.  There were no airplane crashes, only burnt out lookout tower wreckage and massive granite spires.  The first day in the needles was a bit confusing for me.  The main entry point accesses the gully between the sorcerer and witch and is as far as most climbers go in the needles.  It is stacked with classics such as Airy Interlude, Thin Ice, Atlantis, and Spooky.  Katie and I started out with the Don Juan Wall.  The thin corners and slots proved to have some of the best rock we climbed on the whole trip. Topping out the Sorcerer, I began to grasp the layout of the spires beyond and around the central gully.  The warlock, magician, sorcerer’s apprentice and voodoo domes all lay scattered about around us, their shapes all morphed into one giant monolith.  It would take a while to really get to know what the needles has to offer.

We spent day after day exploring and climbing.  We ticked classics and we tried to make it off the beaten path.  As we familiarized ourselves with the guide book and the possibilities it became clear that besides the many classic accessible routes  there are many obscure R and X rated routes that are destined to die a lonely death.   This, I am learning, is true of many California crags where a mix of climbers with evolving ethical codes developed the routes.  I find this legacy of development to be one of the most ironic parts of American climbing history where some of the most outspoken proponents of ground-up climbing switched gears or quit climbing in the 90’s as sport climbing tactics began to take hold.  What we are left with is a bunch of routes that were essentially pissed on by their first-ascenionists as if to mark their territory.

Speaking of marked territory, did i mention that there is burnt out wreckage of the needles lookout tower on top of the magician needle?  The iconic needles fire lookout was built in the 1930’s.  The access road and trail to the needles climbing was built originally to access the fire lookout.   This lookout seems to have been the backbone of the whole regions economy.  It was the single largest visited area in the whole kern river national forest area.  Hikers in all forms teemed to the fire lookout atop the needles.  Most importantly they passed the regions few businesses along the way…they purchased gatorade and consumed hamburgers.  They gassed up in Porterville.  They waited in lines at the base of the stairs.  When finally in the lookout they felt the dizzying exposure of the glassed panorama and talked politely about the vista.     Among the variety of stories we were told about the lookout, the most repeated is that on Sunday you could get home-made cookies if you were a visiting climber.  Now all you get is a view of some charred metal no matter which day of the week you go.

During our stay in the needles we were joined by a variety of other climbing parties.  There were a few Americans, but mostly there were climbers from far away lands who were there to climb the classics.  We wondered, where are all the locals?  After a few days of being there we seemed to be the group at the campsite who knew the most.  You could pretty much split the groups into two categories…those who would do Igor Unchained into Airy Interlude and then leave, and then everyone else.  Gleason even spent an evening giving detailed beta to a visiting climber on how to climb the Nose.

It wasn’t until our last day in the needles that we met an actual local.  We could tell that he had some stories to tell when he came up to our picnic table in the dark just after we’d gotten back from climbing.  We were tired and not in the mood, and frankly suspicious of this new-comer…would be local / regular…

The next morning we properly met Kris Solem and chatted with him for a while.  It was just what we needed.  Finally, after ten days we could get some perspective on what was happening around the needles these days.  It turns out that Kris is writing a new guidebook to the Needles area.  About the new guidebook, Kris says:

“This has been a huge undertaking, a real labor of love for me. A few folks have given me flack over it, bringing in crowds or taking away from the adventure sort of stuff. I really think that’s a non-issue here. The place is no secret, being world famous, and I don’t see people staying away due to there being no printed guide. There’s a ton of stuff on line, although most of it perpetuates errors from the old book both regarding climbs and history. What Kevin and I hope to accomplish is to set the record straight as far as who did what and when, and to shine some light on the literally hundreds of great climbs other than the same ten everyone always does.”

Along with his knowledge of the climbing we also learned about the management of the land in which the Needles lie.  In 2000, President Clinton set up the Giant Sequoia National Monument, managed by the US Forest Service.  The management of user groups is largely hands off and is governed by a 2004 plan that has been under constant revision driven by lawsuits from environmental and varied user groups.  Lately, a movement originating in Santa Cruz with Representative Sam Farr hopes to change the management of the Giant Sequoia National Monument from the Forest Service into the National Park Service.  This change would likely restrict the freedom that campers, climbers, and other user groups (motorized and non) have had in this area.

The take home lesson here is that the future of access in the Needles is in limbo.  There are many sides to take in the process of managing the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  I personally love free camping, un-restricted climbing access, and a limited law enforcement presence.  Consequently, along with all that freedom comes snow-mobiling, atv traffic, and other more impact-full land uses that I would not mind facing limitation.

Along with these management challenges is the question of what to do with the lookout tower.  A significant group of users want to re-build it.  When the tower went up in smoke, so did a significant part of the region’s economy.  Many climbers argue as well that the access to the needles climbing is dependent upon the fire tower, its access road, and its trail.

After my very fulfilling experience in the needles I can’t say I would want anything to change.  I never got to see the lookout tower.  I have no emotional attachment to it’s being there.  I am more attached to the feeling of remoteness and the intense quite that exists between those towering granite spires.  To me, that is the thing most worth maintaining in the area.

 

Colo-rad-do

The air was warm, fresh and clean as were the roads and transpiring landscape. The trees were increasing in density and the size of the mountains was steadily rising as we headed south from Wyoming. We had finally arrived in Colorado after a long drive from Squamish. It was the first time I left Squamish in the summer for an extended amount of time and it was the first time I had been to Colorado. I had little expectation on what to do while there but I did know that I wanted to experience something new, something different from my normal day to day activities.

I knew little about the climbing give or take a few select problems that anyone with any bouldering knowledge would know of but I was familiar with horror stories about the hiking. I also had anticipation about the scene that took place in this state which some may refer to as obnoxious, trendy, competitive, loud and full of spray. Well, I was to learn a few things during the month and a half there…

First of all, the rumors about the hiking proved true. It is a bit insane how much these people hike to go bouldering. On average 2-3 miles there, times 2 for the way back, equals a 5-6 mile round trip hike! Then there is the elevation. The park is roughly at 10,500 feet while the highest spot we went to, Lincoln Lake, was over 12,000 feet. I felt my heart was going to explode into my lungs which were fighting for their own survival. Carrying a pad stuffed with enough water, food and clothes, not to mention the essential toys and camera, for a full day, my legs and back felt like I was in training for Everest.  I tried to save on weight by not bringing the highly recommended rain jacket only to learn the lesson after experiencing two days where we got rained out by afternoon showers which continued to last the whole day. Then there is Cedar. Anyone with a kid hoping to go to Mt. Evans or the like not only has to bring the extra gear but also a fellow by the name of Kevin Cuckovich or someone with similar brute strength to give the little one a ride on the shoulders. Without this extra help I fear I may never have gotten out anywhere besides the local areas in and around Boulder. That said, after a few weeks she was able to hike up to lower chaos on her own and out hike me; an easy accomplishment.

The first part of our trip was spent with our good friends the Strong’s who were kind enough to take it easy on us and stick to lower chaos on our first day despite the slimy conditions. Even softer on us the next, we went to Endo Valley, a hike which I was much more accustomed too. However, the third day we let them decided and upper chaos it was. Seeing as much of the rock in the area was my overall goal, but it is fair to say that we never did go back there!

According to the locals, Area A was meant to be the worst hike around because you hike uphill on the way there and uphill on the way back. It was long but also fairly mellow and I found myself enjoying it. The combination of the trees, greenery, rock, landscape and lack of tourist made this place by far, my favorite area in Colorado. The style of climbing was something I was a bit more familiar with and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of the two days spent in this area, one was with Brian Capps and lovely Jeannie. This day we did something out of the ordinary for most Colorad-ians. We tried 5 problems in, get this, ONE day. To me this is totally the norm. However in these parts things are done a bit more differently. The shortage of easier lines seems to have encouraged people into the habit of warming up and going straight to their project. That is it. The locals also seem to just spend half days out, leaving around 1-2, drive for an hour plus, hike for an hour plus, warm up, project and then reverse. When I realized this I asked ‘really? that is all they do here’? It was somewhat shocking to me coming from the land of long days out climbing and circuiting.

After the first 3 weeks the showers became less, the conditions improved but the climbing partners became few and far between. Despite the fact that we were now staying in Boulder, where every person out of 4 is a climber, finding climber partners proved a real chore. Finding the motivation to go up to any of the alpine areas with just me, Cedar and a pad was not only unmotivating but also unpractical. Cedar would need to be carried at some point and with a pad stuffed with our crap, it would have been too heavy, and not to mention the need for spotters at virtually any of the problems I had in mind. So, that said, the majority of the rest of our trip was spent between climbing at the Spot and going to some of the more local areas with either Tiffany or solo with Cedar. These days too proved a chore. Trying to find problems from a guide book that gave the wrong directions in an area unfamiliar to both of us resulted in bushwhacking and little to no climbing. In the days where we did find partners to go further afield epics seemed in our favor. Somehow I managed to forget my crash pad on the street in boulder which also had our extra clothes in it. On another day, upon driving half way to Mt. Evans I received a text from my friend who was bailing due to a hangover from a recent wedding.

The resulting gym climbing to satisfy my climbing desire was not a bad thing. Gym climbing for me is a treat and I can confidently say that my outdoor skills do not equally transpire to my gym climbing abilities. The saying where you put your energy to holds a lot of truth. In an effort to improve my gym climbing style I decided to attend an adult training session at the spot. As I desperately tried to finish my set of burpies and mountain runners, Shannon shouted at me to keep going. I looked on in disbelief. Was this really happening? Do people really do this on a regular basis and for fun?! I looked back at Shannon in amazement, I tried to go on but the urge to vomit increased with every effort. My arms felt like lead and I was sore for 5 days. After this humbling and enlightening experience, I realize gym climbing has its perks. First of all, it’s fun. Second, it makes one strong, really strong. This was to be displayed to me again a week later as I randomly entered a comp fully unprepared but ready to be humbled. And humbled I was. I managed to make finals but the winner was an impressive 13 year old girl who trains 5 days a week with the amazing and inspiring Robyn Erbesfield-Roboutou as her coach. With logic I know I shouldn’t judge myself too harshly for my performance, something I would have done had this happened 6 years ago. I don’t climb inside much nor train much and I don’t have a coach. But besides my performance I did have a weird sort of nerve racking fun, I learned some and was inspired. From this experience another opportunity was brought forth: to be on the local radio station with local crusher Nina Williams and Arno Ilgner. That in itself was a slightly entertaining experience.

Boulder is known for being home to many a strong climber. I had the opportunity to meet some of them, climb with some of them and also witnessing top Europeans climbers display in ninja style much slaughtering. Despite Boulders negative reputation, I found myself enjoying my time there. Although climbing partners were scare, I enjoyed the gym time. I found motivated people who were full of training knowledge that I never knew existed before. I also met many people who were actually, really sincerely nice and who made me feel quite at home! On top of that, the time spent at Jackie’s (who kindly welcomed us into her home with open arms) was full of fun filled activates: baking, puzzle time and ball room dancing, not to forget the thrift store invasions and time out with Tscholt. I look forward to returning.

My advice for anyone wanting to see if boulder lives up to its reputation:  Go without expectation in all aspects and be ready to embrace all the sweat and tears that you may encounter. The hiking, altitude and climbing itself is not as easy as it looks. Don’t expect good weather or to find reliable climbing partners. Take what you see and experience and make your own opinion from that. Be prepared to get spanked but be prepared to get fit. Make the most of what you find and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge in that area. Besides, Boulder has earned an aspect of its reputation for a reason!

The John Muir Tree

“There is always something deeply exciting, not only in the sounds of winds in the woods, which exert more or less influence over every mind, but in their varied waterlike flow as manifested by the movements of the trees…”

-John  Muir

“They got some big ass trees in Yosemite, damn…”

-Mother Teresa

In John Muir’s book, ”The Mountains of California”, he describes his adventure of climbing up a Douglas Spruce 100 feet above the ground to really experience what it was like to be in a huge sierra wind storm.  While this event occurred while he was actually exploring the Yuba River, many climbers believe that the tree of legend lives a few minutes walk from Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park (maybe if they ever read a book other than “Desert Solitaire” they might learn a thing or two).  Despite not being the actual tree from the story, it is still a huge and amazing tree, that in actuality is much larger than 100 feet tall.  Many people have climbed this tree in an attempt to make it to the top, possibly even putting their hand higher than the highest pine needle.  It has become one of the rites of passage in Yosemite to make it all the way to the top of the “John Muir” tree.  Here are a few photos of the last time I went to pay homage to John “Bad Ass” Muir.

It’s always worth it

 

The potential for first ascents has a way of drawing climbers in like moths to a flame (Pay attention now, that was foreshadowing.  Since moths will eventually get burned by the fire they desire, I may be hinting that my drive to get a F.A. might burn me as well.)  Sending a problem at the your personal limit is made all the more special if it is also the first time that the route is being done.  With no preexisting beta or even the knowledge that it is possible, it is much harder for climbers to realize their goals.  When my friend Noah came back from a plane ride around British Columbia with tales of virgin boulders in beautiful mountain settings, ears perked up and bags started to get packed for the search of new lines and glory.

The area we would be traveling into was the Garibaldi Provincial Park which is about 37 kilometers north of Squamish, and is home to Mount Garibaldi (8786 feet).  The plan was to approach Garibaldi Lake via a hiking trail and then continue up  around the lake to Panorama Ridge and then…well, we were just going to play it by ear at that point.  The boulders were located on the far side of the lake, very close to a ski hut where we planned to bivouac, but the ski hut is normally approached by cross country skiing across the frozen lake in winter.  There were no actual trails to get there in the summer months.  Still, how hard could it be to walk through some bushes?  The worse that could happen is one of us could be too fixated on all of the wild flowers and trip, right?  Hopefully we would make it to the boulders by midday and climb some, sleep in the ski hut, and get a morning crank session before walking back down the hill.

The crew was made of five people and one dog.  Noah, Jeremy, Ben, Tim and Chili the dog all jumped into my van and we headed north up scenic highway 99.  In the parking lot we loaded our packs onto our backs (including Chili, who carried her own food) and did a few seconds of stretching before starting up the steep hill.  The elevation gain from the Rubble Creek Parking Lot trailhead, up to the Panorama Ridge is more than 5000 feet so we only had one crash pad with us to save weight (thanks for carrying that Jeremy).  The going was slow at first and the switchbacks seemed like they could go on forever, but eventually our legs warmed up and we settled into a pace that kept us moving but was still comfortable.  Our conversation kept going back to the boulders and every so often someone would throw out a potential name for them.  The “Garibaldi Boulders”  seemed like the obvious choice, but nothing could be named until some problems got sent.  After about six miles, we were rewarded with some great views over the lake, and the terrain even leveled out a bit so the going was much quicker.  The Black Tusk , a 7000 foot mountain of volcanic rock loomed of in the distance to our left.  The dark color of it’s stone hinted at some different climbing than what Canada normally has to offer, but perhaps not the best quality, so we continued on our journey without being sidetracked by any temptations.  After about ten miles of hiking, we arrived on top of Panorama Ridge in the middle of a cloud.  As the mist would float by, we were given glimpses of the beautiful lake below and the surrounding mountains.  Finally, the wind blew the obstructive moisture away, and we could see the terrain in it’s entirety.  We still had a long ways to go.

The trail was gone, but from here on out it would be down hill as we left the ridge behind and continued circumventing the lake.  Rocky talus quickly turned to loose rocky talus, as we slid down the mountainside.  Once we reached the trees again, we had to stop many times to try and pick the best attack plan to navigate the terrain.  Not only was the land sloping steeply down to the lake, but there were massive ridges shooting up from the shore that had to be climbed over, making the distance much farther than it would appear from far away.  The lake shore only has an actual shoreline beach for little patches here and there; the rest of the lake is surrounded by cliffs that could stop our expedition in it’s tracks, so we tried not to lose too much elevation as we traversed.  The friendly conversations had long since died, as we grunted to ourselves trying to press on in the unfriendly terrain.  Hours passed by and we found ourselves stumbling onto a rocky beach, exhausted and covered in dirt, leaves, cuts and scrapes.  We were definitely getting more than a little bit beat up, and we had not yet even started rock climbing yet.

We celebrated at the ski hut by taking off our packs and drinking some untreated water.  We were just one glacial river crossing and one ridge away from the boulder field.  Leaving most of the gear at the hut, we continued on to our destiny.  Did I mention the glacial river we still had to cross?  F-ing cold!  Water does not get much colder than that without freezing.  As we stared at the huge glacier that was causing us so much grief, we waded around, trying to find a place that was shallow enough for us to cross, without getting swept away by the fast current.  Somehow none of us got washed away and we scaled the final ridge to view the spoils of the war we had just fought so hard to win.

They were midget boulders.  We saw tiny little rocks no more that three or maybe four feet tall.  There was a whole meadow full of these little stones that with enough food and water would still never grow up to be actual boulders.  Our mouths dropped and we all stood there for awhile in disbelief.  When seen from high above in an airplane, they may have looked like gems; up close and personal, they were trash.  Ben was the only one there that was willing to even put on his climbing shoes and do a couple of sit start mantels.  The rest of us just stared in wonder at the injustice of the world.  It was so disappointing that right then I added “suicide” to my bucket list.  Well, maybe not that bad, but it was still a bummer.

Heads hung low, we trudged back to the hut to set up camp.  Someone had brought a bottle a wine, but the extreme dehydration and fatigue did not make anyone want to drink.  Plus, it was not a very celebratory mood.  After a little discussion we agreed upon a name for the boulder field, the “Not Worth It Boulders.“  We ate dinner and started talking about how best to return to the car the next day.  Everyone was in agreement that the way we got there was horrible and should be avoided at all costs, but there were not to many other options available.  We finally decided to follow the shoreline as best as possible, hopefully on a more direct route to the other side of the lake.

After an early breakfast, we set out.  There were patches of rocky beaches that were perfect for walking, but too often the terrain would grow steep and there would sometimes be only a little patch of land to walk on in between the water and the steep bush covered hillside.  We began grabbing the bush branches and leaning back over the water in order to traverse over little sections.  Soon we were full blown tree surfing by walking on branches while hanging on to branches above.  I do not know what kind of bushes those were, but their branches were extremely strong despite their thinness.  As we hovered sometimes inches above the water, Chili the dog would be running around under the bushes trying to find her way through the maze of growth.  Sometimes she would crux out and take a minute to make her way through, but more often than not she would zip through some unseen passage that we would never be able to get through.  A couple of times we had to actually traverse over the water on granite cliffs.  While doing these 5.0 traverses, Chili would get her pack taken from her so that she could just swim in the lake below us until we reached the next beach area.  It was a little bit crazy, but it worked and we made it back to the trail even quicker by staying along the lake.  Even with our packs on, we ran a long part of the way down the trail back to the van.  All in all it took us 12 hours to get there and 10 hours to get back.  We were worked.

As far as bouldering trips go, it was by far the most grueling hard work that I have ever done.  I had pushed myself so hard and did not even get to try one good problem, but it was also some of the most fun I have had in a while.  When adventure calls, sometimes you have to take the risk that things won’t turn out the way that you hope.  Honestly, while I would never like to return to the Not Worth It Boulders, it was totally worth going up there the first time to spend some time with friends.  It has helped me to truly appreciate all of the hard work and vision needed for the people who have developed the climbing areas that I get to visit.  I have spent many hours drooling over guide books wishing that I could have been the first person to climb some of the routes, but now I realize that I am pretty lucky to have all of the hard work done for me.  Still, I would like to find some brand new incredible area so I have to be willing to put the time and energy into searching far and wide, and I must realize that no matter what, it is always worth it to take a chance.

Staying Positive Through Injuries

I have been meaning to write a blog entry forever!  I have not been climbing as much as I would have liked to be lately due to an injury so I was not sure what I would talk about. Then I realized, I should write about my injury and my road to getting healed so if others happen to experience the same or similar injury they would know where to start.

They are not quite sure how my injury came to be but there is speculation. About two and a half years ago I face planted on my mountain bike, and I didn’t realize how hurt my neck was at the time because of how badly the rest of my body hurt. Around the same time that happened I got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that causes systemic inflammation that may be keeping my body from healing as fast. I took a few months off of climbing after my bike crash to let my body heal and then I came back excited and ready train hard. When I would climb on steep walls or pockets I would feel pain in my arm and my middle finger would swell. I thought for sure it was a tendon problem, but there was no instance that I had really felt a pop in my tendon or my finger. I noticed when I climbed straight armed or when I would lock off far away from my body pain would radiate all the way down my arm from my back and my finger would swell. I noticed the pain starting above my scapula and then going to the outside of my bicep and traveling down across the top of my forearm into the middle finger. I would feel so weak in that left side; I could not lock off or start the motion of even trying to lock off. If my feet cut and I had to strain my shoulders and neck I would feel it down my arm. It felt like really bad tendonitis but no matter how much time I took off it still hurt. I took nine consecutive months off of climbing; I mean no climbing period. I tried pushups, but it made it worse, I tried yoga but the downward dog was horrible for it. I got into running, mountain biking but everything aggravated it. I was so confused. I had seen doctors, massage therapists, and chiropractors and each one gave me a different diagnosis and different exercises that they believed where sure to help.

The final and correct diagnosis was a pinched C7 vertebrae nerve. It is not being pinched by the vertebrae itself but by the muscles in my shoulder and back. I have been seeing a very very good physical therapist and I have noticed a huge difference. The exercises I am doing now are focused on range of motion to get the muscle around the nerve to let up. When the nerve is pinched I lose 70% of my strength in that arm and when it is not I feel 100%. In two years I have only had 3 consecutive weeks of not pinching it, and then when it does pinch I take a week off to let the inflammation go down. It is so frustrating because you cannot climb to get stronger or set goals. The goal is to not try hard or move in a weird way that will pinch it or else pain and weakness is the consequence.

It has been an emotional rollercoaster as well as physical. There have been so many times in the past two years that I have wanted to give up and quit climbing because I mentally cannot handle climbing in pain and not feeing as strong as I used to. I attempted to compete in the world cup in Vail, CO this summer. I felt amazing for three weeks straight training and then about a week before leaving I pinched it doing leg lifts on the pull up bar. I wanted to forfeit because I knew that there was no way I could compete at the level I had been training so hard for.  My parents said they didn’t care how I climbed and we should go for fun and I am so happy I did.  Although I could not perform at the level I wanted to in the comp, I had a chance to run my first half marathon the next morning!! It was soooooo fun!!! I had never run a race before and this one was especially awesome. It started in the Vail village at 8000 ft and climbed to the Vail summit pass at 11000 ft. It was physically and mentally challenging just like climbing. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. My dad raced in his first cross country mountain bike race and ended up with the fastest time in the masters division.  The whole family enjoyed the weekend and when I ran my race it made me feel so good to see my dad and boyfriend standing about 7 miles in cheering me on.  My weekend in Vail made me realize that climbing is not all there is to life.  I could not have asked for a better weekend and my family is what made that possible.

It has been hard to stay motivated with climbing like I used to knowing that when I try hard I will probably hurt myself.  I will never quit climbing no matter what though; it is not an option.  As soon as I started walking I climbed everything imaginable and no other sport has nor could make me as happy as climbing does.  I have started dealing with the ups and downs in a positive way by putting more effort into researching different therapies and being open to more recommendations from friends and fellow athletes.

This month I believe I finally found therapy that is making the difference.  Although I don’t climb as much, I have noticed it gets tweaked less and less and I have to take less days off before it feels good again. I was able to climb a 5.13 this week without any pain!  I never would have thought after 13 years of bouldering I would get into sport climbing but I am starting to love it.  It is easier on my body right now and I am excited to travel to new areas!   I found a website about nerves being pinched that has really helped me. It is posted below along with some exercises I am doing now. I have heard that pinched nerves are not that uncommon in climbers so hopefully there are people out there who are dealing with a nerve injury that can benefit from this.

http://www.spinenj.com/files/cervical_whiplash.pdf
http://pinchednerveinshoulder.org/
http://www.massagetherapy.com/articles/index.php/article_id/502/The-Dreaded-Levator-Scapulae

An exercise using a blood pressure cuff:

  • To strengthen the cervical neck muscles you can buy a blood pressure cuff, and put it under your cervical neck.
  • Pump up the cuff to 40 and then tuck your chin to your chest and lightly apply pressure to the cuff with your neck and head.
  • Make sure you keep your neck straight and chin tucked.
  • Push down until it gets to 50 and hold it there for 15 seconds. Then rest for ten.
  • Do this cycle for 2 minutes total.

Exercises using a full body length foam roller:

  • Dips- Lie on roll with head supported. Tip side to side 10 times.
  • Stiff as a board - Roll from side to side keeping your shoulders level with the floor 10 times.
  • Elbow- grasp behind the neck, place elbows together and keep head relaxed on the roll. Keeping the roll still, bring elbows to the right and then to the left 10 times. 
  • Arm circles- clasp hands together arms straight and move clockwise around in a circle and then counterclockwise. 1o times each.

Exercises using a slo-mo for thoracic extension.

  • Place it between the shoulder blades and put hands under head to support the neck.
  • Lower upper body towards ground so muscles across the chest start to stretch and hold for 5-10 seconds.
  • Relax by raising upper body and repeat.

A shoulder exercise: standing arm lift/slide

  • Stand with back against wall
  • Rest both arms against wall with elbows bent
  • Slowly slide your arms overhead and slowly straighten elbows
  • Once your arms are overhead, try to pull your abdomen up and in so that your back flattens against wall.
  • Slide your arms down and repeat

Ten Year Plan

the ten year plan

When I was growing up in Chattanooga my good buddy Matt Sims used to tell me: “Benny Boy…if you fail to plan, plan to fail.”  Now, at the time I wasn’t sure what he meant, exactly, but I knew that loaded into Matt’s mantra was a healthy dose of ambition.  I’ve always thought it was good advice, and since I’m an ambitious fellow, I’ve tried to take his advice to heart.  I think most all animals in nature must do some sort of planning.  We all know that squirrels hide nuts in various places…what follows is a fat winter for the squirrel and many growing trees from uneaten nuts.  When humans take part in this kind of planning it seems to involve cutting down trees and growing corporations…

While I was in school at the University of Utah studying Poli-Sci, photography, and Spanish, I used to fantasize about the next years and what sorts of exiting adventures they would bring.  I became inspired by a group of friends who went climbing in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, and the next year I also went.  It was the first of five summer trips to the Peruvian Andes that I have made.  Since that first intoxicating trip to Peru I have dedicated myself to shooting photographs of adventures all over the world.  This became my ten year plan, to shoot photos, climb rocks, climb mountains, ski, and have this symbiotic relationship with my work and my play.

I am not sure why I chose ten years.  I hear alot of people talk about five year plans, but I think I went with ten because I felt like I needed more time to succeed at my aforementioned goals.  I learned in Poli-Sci school that countries with more stable governments tend to have more healthy, wise, and happy citizens.  I decided to go that route in my own form of self-governance.  Perhaps I also picked ten years because some part of me thought that ten years was such a long time it may never come…sort of in the same way that 6 year old kids think that anyone over 20 years old is 40.

And as I sit here typing, I am amazed…for yes, ten years have passed…I’m now 36, not 26, and I find myself just as inspired by living a life of outdoor adventure as I was at a younger age, perhaps even more so.  Though I have to admit, there have been some changes in my outlook, as well as some modifications to my next ten year plan.  Yes, thats right, I said:  “my next ten year plan.”  For  the pitfall with planning is that if you plan for ten years you must inevitably plan for next ten years, and so on, and so forth, as we forecast our futures.  During the course of the first ten year plan, I was thinking I’d want to be transitioning out of adventure sports photography and the included lifestyle around this time, now, but it turns out, as I live each day, that I’m finding great satisfaction in being outdoors, climbing, skiing, and shooting those sorts of photos.   So, I’m extending my old ten year plan, one day at a time.

If you take a look at the projects section of my website you’ll see collections of pictures from all sorts of places.  Some close to home, some way out there.  One  thing i’ve learned about myself during the last ten years of travel is that after some years without having a place of my own (I have a hard time calling a storage unit “a place”) I began to miss some creature comforts.  Perhaps I’ve become lazy and now expect to live in lavish comfort.  Yes, I need to have a bed, somewhere to put my stuff, and somewhere to hang out when the weather is really bad or if my shoulder hurts.  So for the past year, Katie Lambert and I have been renting a place we live in together just outside of Bishop,  CA.  We use our crashpads for a couch.  In June of 2012 we’re getting married.  We are very comfortable.

So I’m psyched to be here in California, and I have been since last fall.  Except for the month and half in the South East and the quick trip to Chamonix.  Yeah, I’ve been climbing in Yosemite a ton and Katie, Jon Gleason, Eric Ruderman, and I just went to the needles for 10 days.   Its true, I’m not very settled, but I do aspire to an existence free from cars and busses and conflict.  A big part of that goal is to recreate directly from my home…its sort of an “eat locally” approach to going climbing and skiing.  This is a tricky thing, and even Bishop, though it is surrounded by mega-adventure, is still pretty far from the mountains by bike or by foot.

And anyway, I barely even know these mountains, I would likely be so delirious from the 30 miles of peddling to Springdale that I’d get lost.  So I’ve been driving to the trailheads and getting to know the interior of the Sierra a little more by going out and having some adventures.  Sampling the waters, the peaks, the trails, and the snows.

Last May, Jon Gleason flew down from Washington and we skied over from Silver Lake to Yosemite Valley.  Its probably around 50 miles and we took 7 days to do it.  The skiing was incredible.  We skied through the Lyle Peak area and into the Lyle fork of the Merced.  This is the area of highest peaks in Yosemite and the Headwaters of the mighty Merced, may it rest in peace.

Our itinerary was only fixed in terms of the start and finish.  We allowed ourselves to go as long or as short during the day as we saw fit.  Somedays we came around the corner and knew we had to ski a certain run or peak that would suddenly materialize.  Forester and Merced Peaks are some of the greatest skiable terrain i’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.  The area around Triple Divide Peak, in the Clark Range, is also without parallel.

We took what is known as the Southern Border Tour which traces the southern edge of Yosemite Park.  The route goes a long way around from what would be a direct descent into the valley, but to its benefit, the route stays very high, thus keeping us in the snow longer.

We walked a long way down the Glacier Point road before we got to the top of the four mile trail.  The road was still closed to the public, but DNC was getting the gift shop stocked up and there was lots of truck and employee traffic.  We saw the Lays truck, the Frito-lay truck, and then the Sierra-Nevada truck rolled by.  Jon and I discussed the possibility of a car jacking using our whippets.

By 6 o’clock we had descended the four mile trail and were in the Valley.  It was a somehow emotional event to walk down into the valley having traveled overland from the East Side.  We had migrated westward with the lengthening summer nights.  It was May 27.

Mikey and Kate met us with pizza and beer.  Soon, Katie showed up, having been climbing up on Leaning Tower.  We were happy to be with friends and lovers and to have lots of food around.  We had pulled off a pretty cool trip.

I love it when a plan comes together!

What follows is a bunch of photos from that trip.

Washington Apples

Sometimes when Chad Parkinson and I go on climbing trips together we don’t climb that much. It’s cool. We think it is funny and relish, in the fact that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Mmmm, speaking of relish, on a recent bouldering trip to Leavenworth, WA we seemed to spend more time at the Bratwurst stand than out amongst the boulders. It was too hot still to climb mid day anyway. And I love Bratwurst.

Last winter we had 5 days off together so we packed Chad’s Civic up and headed to Las Vegas from Salt Lake City. We pretty much touched 2 boulder problems on that trip . . . but at least we both finished those two problems. On day 2 of that trip we thought it would be cool to drive through Death Valley and go climb out in Bishop, CA. Well, when we got there the Buttermilks were buried under snow and instead of being bummed we were filled with a new excitement . . . because Taco Bell was still open. Now a lot of you might be excited about Schat’s Bakery or the fine local Mexican cuisine in Bishop . . . but not Chad. He informed me that the Taco Bell in Bishop is one of possibly 3 existing Taco Bells in the country that serve up the delicious Chili Cheese Burrito(CCB). Actually, the endangered CCB might only exist in 2 locations now as I have been informed that the Jackson, WY location stopped selling it . . . probably because they have shit for brains. We headed back to Vegas that evening and had a good laugh knowing we drove all the way to Bishop for Chili Cheese Burritos, but when Chad took the first glorious bite of his burrito he noticed that the sombitches at T Bell messed his order up and gave him a Chicken Burrito. Hahaha, Chad is so stupid sometimes.

Anyway, back to our trip to Leavenworth last week. Apparently the desire for fall temps to be here and the excitement for the upcoming bouldering season doesn’t actually make the temps cooler because it was still quite hot in Washington. The trip was good for building psych and thickening finger skin though. Well, umm, just watch the video because there really wasn’t much climbing done on the trip to talk about. The two problems in the video are highly recommended if you are in the area. Just be sure to go in OCTOBER.

Sublime Sending Summer

It’s the Fall Equinox and by all rights the summer should be over, but temps reaching higher than 100 degrees are telling me otherwise. The heat has me uninspired to climb although my body is craving the physical exertion; so, to make myself feel more at ease I will revel in my summer’s sends. After our July efforts on Leaning Tower we headed to higher ground. We headed to Tuolumne – where the water was ice cold and the rock climbs kept our tips numb. The season up there is limited and so I try to have some specific goals so I don’t find myself too idle. A few years back when I was climbing on “Peace” I was intrigued by a route to the right named “Golden Rose.” I had tried it once that summer and found it to be quite hard, quite thin and quite reachy. But, when this summer season started up there I found myself wanting to give it a good going over. I was lucky in that a few friends were interested in doing Peace and so I would have partners to hike up to Medlicott with and give a belay.  My first time up the route this season confirmed my thoughts about it from the past – it was extremely thin, it had long move after long move and felt incredibly sustained but it also felt very doable. I wanted more of it. After a few days effort on the route I was psyched to make the first female ascent of this classic Ron Kauk line.

My fire was stoked and went after another project of mine that has lasted me three summers – The Steel Fingers Traverse. It’s rated V8 but I want to give it a personal grade of V10 – but I don’t guess that would be right so I’ll humbly stick to what the Tuolumne Rock Gods have given it. It’s a 40 foot traverse that goes through a series of slopers, crimps, heel hooks, horizontals, underpalms and cracks. The typical beta at the start of the crux is to get a left heel, toe and lock off to a sloper crimp above the roof. This works great for those that are 5’8″ and taller but for us shorties it a whole different game. The reason this traverse has taken me so long is because of this move – I needed to find a different way and I did. It involves an undercling pinch, super high feet and a pop out the roof. Ok, hard move but I could do this move almost every time, the issue then became being able to do the move while holding the pump from the 15 or so feet into it and then holding on for all that came after it. I worked it, worked it, worked it. I had it down in a few sections, then I had it down to two sections – all the moves into the pop then all the moves from the pop to the end. But, damn it! I kept putting my foot down when I would go for the move – I realized that I was having a mental game with myself. I was thinking that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard for me to do it all and I was holding myself back, I wasn’t letting myself succeed. I needed to break through, to change the thought pattern. So, I started doing it from just a few moves before sometimes I would succeed, mostly I wouldn’t. Then I would just start doing that move to the end over and over again, with a fierce pump. This showed me I could hold on, I had the power to do so. On the day that I red-pointed Golden Rose I tried to send Steel Fingers. I thought that the psyche from the mornings accomplishment would have me stoked. I didn’t do it, but I came really close. A couple days later after a good rest and some pep talks from both Ben and Ron I knew it was time. I warmed up and then arranged the pads as needed. I fired it first go that day! I had surprised myself when I stuck “the move.” I had to real my thoughts back in and keep it together for the rest of the traverse, for there are a few more cruxes before the end. As I reached the last hold and then stepped down off the problem I had not only just made another first female ascent but I had personally come through a transformation.

This had all happened just in time for the next week Ben Ditto, Jon Gleason, Eric Ruderman and I headed to the Needles for a ten day stint of secluded, low commitment multipitching. In our time there we got in a little over 36 miles of hiking and about 36 pitches of climbing. It’s a magical place there at the southern end of the Sierra. The granite is splitter and grippy and the pro can be plentiful and solid to sparse and sketchy. From the late 60′s to the early 90′s is when most of the climbing was put up at the Needles. In 1969 Fred Becky made the first ascent there and in the years to follow it would be only a handful of hard men and women putting up FA’s. When I first caught wind of the Needles it was the 90′s. The electric green lichen of the place suited the style of the era and the glossy pages of the climbing mags were adorned with lycra, runouts on thin flakes and mystical sounding names of formations like The Warlock and The Sorcerer. Master’s of Stone had Ron Kauk and DanO moving through the landscape as if a playground. In our ten days there we saw that playground shut down more parties of climbers than not on the humbling experiences of cracks that tapper out to descents up talus filled gullies to the 3 mile hike out. We saw more people leave early, almost fleeing with fear than on the summits of those five fingers of rock.

Many of the climbs seem to have been left in the past. The upfront classics dominate the scene and only the Peregrines can be found on such climbs as the Nautilus. Aside from the bugs, birds and chipmunks our wildlife encounters – much like the gear – was sparse despite being at 7000 feet and in the thick forest of the Sierra. There were no deer, no bear and no cougar and I could only deduce that since the Central Valley with it’s millions of people and agricultural pollution rest only 50 miles away that the animals have moved to less polluted more safe environs.

We ticked off some classics like the Don Juan Wall, Atlantis, and Fancy Free to name a few. Gave a go at things like Pyromania and Titanic and on our last day there Ben and I made an ascent of Romantic Warrior. Through the years I had heard stories of this climb – how bad the pro was, how hard and awkward the cruxes were, how beautiful the line was, how good the climbing was, how shut down people had been on it and on and on. But, somehow this climb was not so bad for us. Perhaps it’s that we came from Yosemite where the runouts can be long, the pro can be funky, and the rock just as chossy as it is solid. And perhaps it’s that in our quiver we have enough experience to go up something like this and come out on top. Whatever the reason for the send on this amazing and elegant line I am thankful, for it was a highlight of the trip and a highlight in my climbing career.

As I wrap up this tale of a sublime, sending summer thunder clouds gather above Yosemite Valley. The threat of rain brings with it some cooler temps and hopefully the promise of Fall – for there is still much to climb and explore!

Magic Ghosts and Science

Located an hour east of Seattle, Index Washington sits on the North Fork of the Skykomish River, just above its confluence with the main channel of the Skykomish a small river that the passing train crosses over on its way across the north Cascades.  The 150 inhabitants live in the woods by the river and wake to the sights of Mount Index, Mount Baring and the vertical granite of the Upper Town Wall.

On Sunday mornings, bells ring in the town church.  Some of the residents are god fearing people. Some residents are pagans with pentacles, five-pointed stars contained within a circle. The five points of the star represent the four classic elements.  The pagans believe in a fifth element as well.    The little town in the mountains hosts a variety of beliefs.  Stories exist of ghosts, of magic and of science.
Index climbing involves blue collar science.   The 80 degree slabs involve boulder problems between no hands rests.  The routes feel extremely sandbagged.  Climbing in good conditions in Index is rare. Summer is hot with the Lower and Upper Town Walls in the sun.  Winters are rainy and there are few steep routes to climb on.  Sometimes in the fall, when the clouds sit just right, Index can be perfect.  That’s the magic time in Index and that’s when everything gets sent.

In 1984 the Department of Natural Resources granted the Robbins Company, whose equipment helped dig the chunnel between Great Britain and France, the right to test mine in Index.  Using a Mobile Miner, an enormous digging machine, the company bore a 12’ x 21’ by 278’ tunnel in the wall and removed 3,000 cubic yards of material.  Local climbers argued against the heavy machining and the Robbins Company voluntarily ceased their digging, allowing for the University of Washington Gravity Lab to use the tunnel at the Country climbing crag for research.


The fifth force may exist. Elementary particles interact with each other through four different forces: gravity, electromagnetism and  strong and weak interaction- known as “strong” and “weak nuclear force” respectively.  Tests on gravitational constant have been recorded in a deep borehole in the Greenland ice sheet, an Australian mine shaft and onboard the USS Dolphin submarine while it was deeply submerged. These tests search for discrepancies between the estimated and the actual forces, for the existence of a fifth force.  Being close to a known large mass allows for a constant in the tests.  The University of Washington Gravity Lab used the tunnel in Index to search for the fifth force. Scientists invent magic.

The vertical granite of the 600 foot Upper Town Wall hosts a number of quality free climbs.  The Davis-Holland, the easiest route on the formation at 5.10b, follows a crack line on the west face.  Next door is Rise and Fall, followed by Green Dragon, Town Crier and a host of other “5.12” routes.  I hiked to the top of the Town Wall with a seventy meter rope and dropped it down the face.  Using two mini-traxions, I rappelled down seventy meters and then climbed back up using the mini-traxions to arrest my falls.  Being alone on the wall, working through the tech nine climbing of Rise and Fall, was one of the best experiences I’ve had in awhile.  I used to free solo longer routes a lot.  Working the route, along on the wall gave me a lot of the same feelings. I enjoyed the solo time.

The local hardmen of Index are an interesting crew. Andrew Philbin’s mom belays him occasionally and almost always on his hardest sends.  When Andrew projected the tech-nine arête Amandala (5.13c) at the Lower town Wall, his mom belayed him on the rig.  With encouragement from his mommy, Andrew sent and earned notoriety in the Washington climbing community for his ascent of the “Mom”dala. Andrew’s mom believes in him.


Philbin wrote about our recon of Good Girls like Bad Boys, a 6 pitch 5.12 route off of Madsen Ledge on the Upper Wall.  “We used The Ave (5.8) as an approach pitch; not the most elegant outing even if you are fond of thorns, spiders and dirt. “ Philbin lead the first two pitches off Madsen Ledge, a pitch of 11c and a pitch of 5.12.  While Drew managed to figure out the difficult slab mantle on the 5.12 pitch, the hard climbing proved my ineptitude on this style of climbing and we retreated as darkness fell.  I vowed to return.

Mikey, the other master of Index, and I hiked past the Upper Town Wall. The technical climbing had worked me and Schaefer wanted to get back into shape.

“I’m gonna send on my last try,” I told Mikey at the base of Attractive Nuisance a route at the Outdoor Hangboard.  The route follows a steep corner.  A slab on the left side and overhanging incut granite holds on the right require drop knees, shoulder scums and wild body movement.  Initially, the route was rated 5.13.  In the new guidebook Daryl Kramer downgraded the route to 5.12c.  Mikey tried the route 8 times before he sent. It took me 9.  It’s hard to know what to believe sometimes. I do believe that I did it though.

Locals hang signs outside their houses.  No trespassing. Private Property. Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again. Index residents are known for having 12 Gauge IQs.

Built in 1898 to serve train passengers heading over Stevens Pass, the Bush House served as a hub for the small town of Index.  Mrs. Bush, the owner, greeted travelers at the the train, ringing a bell and calling out “Bush House Hotel.” The Bush House served as a hub for the town, being the only place large enough to accommodate sizeable gatherings. Index’s largest building shut down when Snohomish County revoked the hotel’s occupancy permit because of structural and public safety concerns.  The hotel’s disrepair, the poor foundation and the collapsing structure, were just part of the concerns.

Concrete tiles run perpendicular to the steel rails.  Every other tile has a scuff mark, the white blasted line where metal hanging from the train connectors gouged the tile. This is what kills people on the train luge.  Lay between tracks. Face up. Listen to the roar. Watch the sky vibrate. Hold still and the Amtrak will clear your body.  If a chain hangs from the caboose, the train luge becomes serious.  It’s possible. It just involves laying beneath the tracks and believing you’ll be ok.

1907- Annabelle stayed at the hotel while her newly married husband worked in the Monte Cristo mine. Prospectors found rich surface deposits in the area but the past few years had been less fruitful. Annabel’s husband thought he could revive the mine, make money to support his new wife and build a family in Index. While eating dinner at table 2, a group of train passengers entered the hotel’s restaurant with news of a catastrophic accident in the mine.  The rains of the past few days had flooded the mine, destroying much of the infrastructure.  “Everyone died,” they said.  Annabelle sat in shock fiddling with the silverware at her table.  She left her food, returned to room 9, packed her bags and hung herself.  Her husband returned a few days latter after narrowly escaping the accident.  When he discovered her dead, he killed himself too.  The ghost of a woman in a white dress walks through the hotel at night.  Tears run down her face and onto her deeply bruised neck.  When the hotel restaurant was open, visitors complained that the silverware at table 2 shifted while they were eating.

We started hiking in the dark and reached the top as the sun rose. Jessica Campbell, a friend from nearby Leavenworth, and I rappelled into the crux pitches of Green Dragon.  The classic Washington aid line goes free at 13- with a couple of face variations around the original aid line.  Justen Sjong and Ben Gilkinson freed the route recently and gave it modern (read not sandbagged) grades.  The last two pitches of 12c and 13a are the crux and we worked out the moves early in the morning.  But soon, the sun was over Baring. The rock heated quickly.  Our feet burned in our black shoes.  Climbing became impossible.  We retreated to the summit.

WSGS, the Washington State Ghost Society, investigated the paranormal activity at the Bush House a few years ago.  The group spent the night, setting up video cameras and tape recorders to capture EVP, electromagnetic voice phenomenon.  I’m not sure how the advanced scientific equipment worked. Probably like the fifth force testing. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” Arthur Clarke.  In the morning when they reviewed their footage, the white silhouette of a small boy appeared running near the shed behind the Bush House.  They heard his screams on the tape recorder.  Interviews with locals revealed that a boy had been murdered in the shed.   Or so the stories go.

“This is the hardest pitch in the world, “ Mikey’s yell soaked into the mist of the Upper Town Wall.  Our one headlamp jumped across the Upper Town Wall. Earlier that afternoon, Mikey redpointed the crux pitch.  He managed the third pitch, put together the fourth, and the fifth. When darkness fell, he started up the last difficult 5.11 pitch.  With a scream, the light of the headlamp levitated upward.  The mist hid the moon. The air was cold and the rock colder.  It was the magic time in Index. Mikey sent the pitch and took us through the difficult climbing to the summit. When it was my turn, I couldn’t figure out how he ascended the blank expanse of vertical rock.  The fifth force?  I pulled through and soon joined Mikey on his successful ground up ascent of Good Girls Like Bad Boys.  It had been a daunting prospect but Mikey had succeeded.  He believed.

Rain wet the trail on the hike down from the Upper Town Wall. My headlamp picked out a newt walking down the trail, I’d seen a fist sized frog and a large snake hiking with Drew.  Thumb sized brown spiders weaved webs between the trees.  Where the pagans in this town because of these animals? Why were the scientists experimenting with the fifth force in a place like Index?  What else lived in Index? I wanted to find magic in the woods.

Previous owners nailed plywood to the windows and doors of the Bush Hotel.  A small opening just pass a No Trespassing sign and above a piece of plywood, allowed entrance. I stared into the room full of dust and old couches wondering if I should go in.  The voices of dead people sang in my ear. I turned off my Ipod and the voices ended.  A little bit of the magic stopped.  I turned around, and went back to my car.  I was afraid of seeing ghosts. I was more scared of not seeing one. Finding a boring reality is more frightening than having those unknown possibilities, even dreadful ones.  I want to live in a world of imagination. I want to believe in ghosts, magic and science.