Inspired Stone

More Adventure Without a Car
February 27, 2012, 3:33 am
Filed under: Climbing, Mountain | Tags: , , ,

Here are a few more local adventures I’ve come up with that don’t require a vehicle. The first is climbing in Eldorado Canyon, which happens to be one of America’s premiere rock climbing destinations and is only a relatively flat 6 miles away from my front door. An obviously bikeable trip, but finding a climbing partner with the same opinion was not easy.

And now that we live in a place with a real winter, I’ve had to broaden my pursuits to activities that take advantage of the snow. Like skiing! I skied off-and-on while living in Davis, but now that we are in Boulder I decided to actually buy a pair of skis. Thanks to the awesome Boulder Sports Recycler, I got a light pair of telemark skis for $55. The boots, well they were a bit more expensive, but with $100 of gift credit at REI, it only took another $200 to get a new pair of Scarpa T4s. With the convenience of the Boulder-Eldora bus, I was able to get out and ski up Jenny Creek to the Arestua Hut without ever getting the car out of the garage.

Indian Creek
November 5, 2011, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Climbing | Tags: , ,

Two days after the first snow here in Boulder, I escaped to the Utah desert for an amazing weekend of climbing in Indian Creek. Indian Creek, which is about 50 miles south of Moab, is a crack-climbers dream come true. Miles of canyon and mesa, whose sandstone walls are splintered with vertical cracks of every size.

(The three walls, from left to right, are Beef Wall, The Fin and Cat Wall)

Most climbing guidebooks include photos with lines overlayed to illustrate the location and path of climbing routes. For the Indian Creek guidebook author, the task is easy. Here is my rendition of route overlays for Indian Creek,

The quality of the lines made it difficult to decide where to climb during our short stay. Everything look equally amazing. Most of the guidebook read like this:

4. Unnamed 5.10 splitter hands to fists.
5. Unnamed 5.10 splitter hands
6. Unnamed 5.11 splitter fingers
7. Unnamed 5.10 slitterer hands
8. etc.

I exaggerate slightly, but I’ve never seen or climbed such amazing cracks. For example, my first route of the weekend was called “Incredible Hand Crack”. It was. Most of the routes at Indian Creek have bolted rappel anchors at 100-150 feet, minimizing the adventure component, but elevating the fun factor. Beyond the anchors and interspersed between the established routes there appeared to be equally slitter cracks, so we did two other routes not in the book and found the rock a bit sandier in its unclimbed state. Not surprising given that it’s sandstone.

Beyond just the climbing, the setting of southeastern Utah is beautiful, with its red, orange and white sandstone walls and cottonwood creeks. I’m looking forward to many more trips to the canyon-lands.

Local Adventure
July 23, 2011, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Climbing, Mountain | Tags: , ,

One of the best parts about living in Boulder is the proximity to the outdoors. Going climbing doesn’t involve 4 hours of round-trip driving, it’s a mere bike ride away. The same goes for a hike up a moderate peak. Before moving to Boulder, I was becoming uncomfortable with the amount of driving required for a trip to the mountains. Part of my discomfort came from the fact that as a person in love with the wilds, I’m part of a community that agonizes over damaging shrubs at the base of a cliff or dropping a wrapper on the trail, and yet there is no mention of the gallons of gas burnt on the way to the trailhead. The other reason for my unease was the realization that some climbing trips were in fact driving trips with a little climbing thrown in.

So, I began thinking about ways to shift the balance away from the car. The eastside tour was an experiment with that idea, combining a bike tour with hiking and climbing along the way, but in reality turned out to be mostly a biking and driving trip with a tiny amount of climbing and hiking:

Here in Boulder, it’s much more practical to leave the car at home. So here is a graphical summary of three local adventures without the assistance of a car. The size of the colored bars represent my subjective measure of the weight of each component, whether bike, bus, walk or climb. And not only is a car not required but they can all be completed in the morning before work! Ah, Boulder…

Smith Rock: Tuff Climbing
May 19, 2010, 4:49 am
Filed under: Climbing | Tags:

Just when you thought I was obsessed with the mountains and climbing of the Sierra Nevada, I venture to two neighboring states and prove that I’m really obsessed with mountains and climbing in general. At the end of March I sampled the long sandstone free-climbing of Red Rocks, near Las Vegas. Last weekend I went north to finally experience the amazing volcanic tuff climbing of Smith Rock.

One motivation for the trip was to visit my friend Eric, who moved to Seattle last year. Smith Rock is roughly equidistant between Seattle and Davis, so we settled on a Thursday thru Sunday in May and met up in Oregon. I’ve known about Smith Rock for almost as long as I have been climbing. It was the birthplace of American sport climbing in the 1980’s and for a time, was home to America’s most difficult route: To Bolt or Not to Be, 5.14. But I don’t get that excited about sport climbing. So I never thought much about visiting. Yet I do like visiting new areas, climbing new rock, and of course it would be great to see Eric, so I was on the road Thursday at 5 PM, along with another friend Drew.

Smith Rock impressed me for a lot of reasons. The sport climbing is justifiably famous, but about half of the climbs we did were high quality crack climbs, such as Karate Crack, shown above, as well as Wartley’s Revenge and Zebra-Zion. But not only is the climbing great, the area is scenic and the camping perfect. Some serious resources and thinking went into the development of the camping situation. The bivy site is within walking distance of all the climbs, so once you park there is not need to drive again until you leave. The parking and picnic table area are kept separate from the big, undeveloped sleeping area, so you don’t have to deal with a pack of drunk people 20 feet from your tent when you are trying to get an early start the next day. The central bathroom even has a designated dish washing area, and even free dish soap! It was a fantastic trip-good climbing, good company and good living.

December 14, 2009, 4:26 am
Filed under: Climbing, Photo | Tags: , ,

California is blessed with a variety and quality of rock climbing unknown in most other states. Although Davis lacks anything climbable except artificial walls, excellent climbing lies one hour up highway 50 above the tiny town of Kyburz. Jutting out of a ridge north of the American River is a fine grained granite crag known as Sugarloaf. I don’t know if this is an official geographic name, but it is very possible that it’s a name invented by climbers. Climbers are creative namers. A look at modern climbing guidebooks might convince some that climbers are perverted and on drugs, but usually a climb’s name is decided on only because it sounds interesting. Sugarloaf is home to the climbs Scheister, Blue Velvet, Fat Merchant’s Crack, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Some names even indicate something about the climb. The photo below is of one of my favorite routes at Sugarloaf-its name is The Fracture.

Here is a climber nearing the top of Scheister:

And the same climber about halfway up an excellent route named Hyperspace:

On my last visit to Sugarloaf one week ago, I was finally able to climb a route named Bolee Gold, which I had been yearning to do for some time. And it was just in time, by 4 PM the snow was flying. That is when I stopped, looked around and really enjoyed the austere beauty of the place. The surrounding area has still not fully recovered from a wildfire many years ago, so the gray walls and gray trees blended with the blowing snow into an amazing scene.

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….