Inspired Stone

Tumbleweed: Andy Goldsworthy tribute
November 25, 2009, 4:17 am
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I might be crazy, but there is something very attractive about a tumbleweed. They first grabbed my attention when I saw a tractor clearing a dirt field near our house. I’m not sure what the goal was, as the only thing in the dirt field were some tumbleweeds. It appeared as though the tractor was practicing with giant balls of string.

I quickly forgot about the nearly perfect spherical shape of the tumbleweed, but as I biked to work a couple days later, there was the most perfect specimen right next to the road. I had to take a picture of it.

The image I was imaging was a studio shot, with a dark background, something that really emphasized the tumbleweed. Where it was next the road wouldn’t work, but dealing with a six foot diameter weed isn’t easy. Nicole and I carried it home and the best option I could come up with was to shoot it in the backyard in the dark.

The lighting turned out a little weird, but okay for the first attempt. As I walked around it, trying to find the best angle, I was reminded of Andy Goldsworthy, an artist known for really beautiful sculpture constructed of natural materials.


Cragging Above Woodfords
November 17, 2009, 4:00 am
Filed under: Climbing | Tags:

Sunday, Charlie joined me for a day to check out the climbing in Woodfords canyon. The town of Woodfords lies on highway 88, near Lake Tahoe, as it descends east into Nevada. I had driven through Woodfords dozens of times in the last few years, coming and going from the eastern sierra. Each time, I would dangerously peer up at the surrounding cliffs while keeping an eye on the road wondering if there was any climbing up there. Well of course there was. The real questions were, is the climbing any good and has anyone climbed up there before. Since moving to Davis, I learned that the answer was affirmative to both. First, a Davis student, formerly a resident of South Lake Tahoe, claimed there was a bounty of excellent crack climbs throughout the canyon, a fraction of which had been climbed. Then, information about the area began to appear online. A rudimentary guidebook, circa 90’s, circulated online in pdf form. Everything was telling me, I should climb there. So Sunday, I finally made it happen. The weather was perfect, the climbs superb, now all I think about is when I can go back.

The Art of Climbing
November 14, 2009, 12:37 am
Filed under: Climbing

It is often said that there is art in climbing. I used to think that this implied some kind of performance art in the actual physical motion of climbing. This may be true for some people, but I’m usually focused on moving past the next sequence, finishing the next pitch, getting up, and getting down, not the grace of my movements. I think art enters into climbing whenever a new climb or new experience is envisioned.

Climbs, and outdoor adventures in general, fall onto a scale of purity or aestheticism. The purest goals are obvious and require the fewest compromises, though by no means are they the easiest to accomplish. For example, in the arena of mountain climbing, ascending a ridge from the foot of the peak to the very apex, lies higher on the aesthetic scale than ascending part-way up a face and descending before reaching the top. However, in rockclimbing we are often doing exactly the latter. So even within the pursuit of climbing, there seems to be different scales for the various disciplines, such as apline, trad, sport and bouldering. It would be hard to imagine judging the purity of a boulder problem next to some beautiful ridge line on an 8000 meter peak. There is a scale for bouldering nonetheless. On the one hand you have the direct line up the most prominent prow of the boulder and on the other, you have the dirty, mossy route up the backside (which usually turns out to be the easiest way down).

The overlap between the different scales is where the controversy begins. What might have been a very beautiful boulder problem, gets bolted and falls onto the low end of sorry sport climbs. On a dominant mountain buttress, a climb goes up the steep rock, but then stops before the final summit ridge. Is it an unfinished mountain climb or an excellent rock route? The most aesthetic would be if it topped more than one scale, if it were a beautiful mountain and an excellent rockclimb.

Alas, there are usually compromises. Free soloing probably sits at the top of rock climbing purity, but so few people practice it that it is easy to ignore that end of the scale. My ascent of the northwest face of Half Dome would have been more pure if I was free-climbing, but ascending the face on aid is more attractive than coming up the cables and planks on the backside (but then on the aesthetic scale of hiking, Half Dome is up there…).

This kind of evaluation is what plays out in my mind when I am scheming new climbs and adventures. And it extends to activities other than climbing. The really exciting ideas are those that are very aesthetic or beautiful. Most people have heard of the John Muir Trail, which traverses the High Sierra from Yosemite to the summit of Mt.Whitney. Fewer people know about what is called the High Route, which takes a less compromising route and traverses the High Sierra much closer to the actual crest of the range. In this match up, I would call the High Route a prouder, more elegant line. But is it at the top of the scale? How about a traverse of the actual Sierra crest itself? It has never been done in its entirety, as far as I know, and many of the mountains traversed along the way are beautiful climbs on their own. It would certainly be longer and more complex than the High Route, which would bring it down a notch. So maybe the true crest route would be a little contrived after all. Hmm….

Trail Work and Wandering in the Eastern Sierra
November 12, 2009, 1:51 am
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A few days ago, I visited Bishop to help with a volunteer effort to improve the trails around the Buttermilk Boulders, a beautiful and popular bouldering destination. Many organizations were involved, including the Access Fund, the American Alpine Club and the Friends of the Inyo. The boulders are located in the high desert at the eastern threshold to the Sierra and given the sparse vegetation, a web of trails proliferate. So a group of about 70 volunteers arrived Saturday morning to rock the major trails and disguise the unnecessary ones. To help raise money for a toilet at the boulders (with so many people visiting, some amenities are required), Saturday night featured a slide show by Doug Robinson, a man that has been guiding, climbing and skiing hard in the Sierra for about 40 years.

Sunday was my day. One of the most prominent mountains on the Bishop skyline is Mt.Humphreys.

I have something of a goal to climb all of the mountains forming the western horizon as viewed from Bishop and one of the reasons I haven’t tried Humphreys yet is that the eastern trailhead is at the end of a gnarly dirt road. However, I’m not opposed to starting a climb with a desert hike and it looked like I could start from a highway 168 to the south and hike a dirt road about 3 miles to get to the trailhead. So that is what I did. An unfortunate decision to take a short-cut led to a lot of unnecessary ups and downs and I didn’t arrive at the trailhead until way too late. I did get an interesting, up-close look at the result of last summer’s wildfire.



The plan for next time is to A) Find someone with a high clearance vehicle or B) Start before sunrise and don’t take the “short-cut”. Despite not having accomplished the days goal, you can’t beat wandering around in the high desert wondering at the raw beauty of the desert meeting the mountains. The eastern sierra is wild, expansive, remote and inspiring. There will always be a special place in my heart for those mountains and desert along the eastern border of California.


Desolation, Late Fall
November 3, 2009, 5:52 am
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The fall is an amazing time in the mountains. The light is perpetually soft. Everything is cold, dry and crisp. I’m only a little melancholy about the coming snow which will cover much of the climbable rock and make travel at the heights difficult for those like me that don’t ski worth a darn. If it were always fall…that would be about right.

To soak it up, rather than just think about it, my wife Nicole and I ventured into Desolation Wilderness and got back to the car just as the sun went down and the full moon came up.