Sunday, February 19, 2012

The old and bold. Adventures in J-Tree.

I feel that right now would be an appropriate time to update. This would have been written in pen first however in the last few days all my pens have all gone aloof. The phenomenon would somewhat reflect my state of mind, car and environment. But things are getting better. Hopefully that means I will find my pen soon.

On Monday morning at 3 am, I saw KP off to the airport. I don’t think I fully realized how much I appreciated her company until the next day. Goodbyes don’t bring sadness so easily anymore; I think I have come a long way from the grief struck hug circles in my adolescent camp years. It’s more of an appreciation and excitement for when I might see that person again now, in KP’s case, probably a few months.

The interesting part has become catering my car life to others. Tyler and Mike have been the new project and I didn’t really get them off the best start. They arrived at 10pm Monday night, were immediately thrown in the wagon and driven 4 hours (5) to Joshua Tree, CA. Not only did I cart them off to another state, but also another world of climbing all together.  “ this is the food I eat” “ this is where the cutlery and stove are” Yes, you have to wait two days to shower” No, we don’t have much water” “No that water is not potable, but look at me, I’m still okay…?”

GOOD MORNING BOYS! bet you didn't expect to wake up here!!
The decision to go to Vegas had been made at W’s house, where Claire, myself and him sat around all day and watched the rain. It never rains in Vegas. This begs the question of why it must happen on the one week that T and M where to show up.  Game time revealed no climbing for 3 days in Vegas so the decision was made for us.

Joshua Tree at Sunset
At 4 am, Tuesday morning, we arrived in the Hidden Valley Campground. It was cold and windy. The boys set up tents and the girls rearranged their cars/beds and settled in.

The first familiar figures  I saw the next morning were Logan and Kona, whom we had climbed with in Red Rocks not one week earlier. Half relieved that I knew someone, I followed him around looking at different rock formations, trying desperately to memorize the grades he was tagging on their routes.

The Hidden Valley campground is aces above red rocks. Car camping is matched with communal grounds, shelter of rocks, and walkable distances to thousands of climbs; sport trad and bouldering. With the slight inconvenience of having no water source, the pit toilets are similar and they even have recycling… RECYCLING! What a joy.
Hidden Valley Campground, photo courtesy of Wolfgang

Day one was spent wandering the “real hidden Valley” area, getting on walls named “ Thin wall” and “ the sentinel”. Nothing particularly jarring but the sensation of grit and granite was enough. I was being weighed down from being awake for 2 days (nearly without naps) and the hardships of coaxing T and M to my dirtbag ways.

Day two was a little more exciting. Woke up at 7 as per new usual. Brushed teeth. Ate oats in the wind. Use the facilities.  Ambled off to the backside of “the ski track” wall with my new friend “Addy” from San Fransisco.

The Flake! on the Ski track wall
We approached a climb that was supposed to be a classic. It was called “ the Flake”; a nice 5.9 route that ascends through a chimney, into a layback flake and then finishes after two bolts on steep slab.  I wasn’t thinking much, have no experience in rock chimneys and barely any mileage on granite but with 6-foot-something-Addy as my spot I started wedging my way up.

It took 10 feet before he  showed up. This seasoned rock vetran and his wife sauntered over from their Westy. He was already mid scolding before I was even in earshot. “ You are doing that the wrong way. Come down and turn around” “ you need to use your knees like this” “ you should have placed a piece there already”. I was flabbergasted. Not only was I stuck in my very first lead chimney, but I was also being chirped by an old man, obviously very experienced and disapproving. After a few minutes of 'discussion' I wedged my way back to the ground and finished the earful. “And, you should really be wearing a helmet. But That’s enough tips for today” he frowned as he turned, wife in tow, back to their Westy. I thanked him, although admittedly in a half-assed manor, as I was still in shock from the experience and a bit disgruntled at his attitude.

Shrugging it off, I started back up at the chimney (aiming in the correct direction this time). Maybe this really was beyond me, but how else was I going to learn?? I am in one of the climbing capitals of America, on a moderate, classic route. I am doing this.

So grunting and moaning, I camed my limbs and wrestled my way back up to 15 feet. Feeling slightly insecure, I placed the one piece I could then cranked on it a few times and tried to squeeze higher. It was tough. There was a dicey move above me. The Vet had told me this was the crux. I sheepishly looked out to the road and saw his van still sitting there.  They were watching. First, I started to remember all those times i have watched people in kayaks commit to doing something stupid... and I felt as if I was on the other side of that connection. Then I imagined him sitting inside his van with 9-1 dialed into the cellphone, holding it up and just waiting…

Swearing, I slid back down to the ground. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be that idiot. Feeling pretty bummed out, I wandered around the base of the climb, asking Addy what he wanted to do next. Did he want to lead it? No way, was his answer. He hates chimneys. I swore again. “ You should totally do this though… I mean, the move is protected and it gets better after that. I am in no rush… get on it again!” I couldn’t tell if he was just looking for entertainment or if he really thought I could do it. I hesitated and looked back to the road. The Camping van was long gone. Okay. I said. I will try.

This time the beginning moves were easy, practice made perfect. A knee cam there, a shoulder bar here,  a ?chicken wing? there… I wedged my heel against the back wall leaning onto my knee to loosen the other and then smeared it as I pressed my hands, palms down against the wall in front of me and let my shoulder blades sink into the back wall. Bit by bit I made it back to the spot I had been twice before. I placed the cam snuggly into the rock and leaned back. Three deep breathes and some encouragement from Addy got me moving again. This time, as a vertically beached whale, I hollered and squealed insecurely until inch by inch until I was into one deep hand hold, then another. My shins were perfectly cammed again and I could breathe. Crux, be gone. Climb on till the anchors.

The whole way I was hoping that the vet and his lady had swung back around, seen the amateur chicka at the top of the climb and hopefully he had smiled at her persistence, or maybe just shook his head at her stubbornness. Sometime having the conviction of a good climbing partner and the ego of an adolescent can surprise you in what you are capable of. Lauren: 1, Chimney: fun!

The afternoon brought dark clouds, and soon enough rain. We made the call to evacuate back to Vegas just before the snow hit. Yes,  the snow. I think it is fair to blame it on the boys for bringing Canada with them.

Snow. in J-Tree
some gnarly knuckles.
Back here in Vegas, the sun is shining, the wind is howling and the rock is drying.
Time to Climb! 

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