Sunday, October 17, 2010

Maine! (New England Part 2)

Flash back!  This should have gone into an earlier blog.  This is what one sees in between Chicago and Burlington VT.  Toll Roads.
This morning finds us once again enjoying the quaint hamlet of North Conway, Starbuck's wicked fast free internet, and alluring blue skies; which is a nice reminder that a certain classic on Cathredral Ledge awaits us if I can get my act together.  But, back to where I left off...

As I recall we had just survived a busy weekend at Rumney!  With the iphone map application locked onto Maine we drove East, passing countryside farms, white picket fences, and the Maine Border where we were greeted with Maine's Border epithet "Maine, how life was meant to be lived". This might not be accurate word for word, but you get the jist.  We had just crossed from the "live free or die" state and were now in calmer waters.

By noon we were in Portland and within sight of the Atlantic.  The last time Ben saw the Atlantic was on Cape Cod around 81'.  He was 5 and doesn't recall too much.  We thought Portland was real cute; and reminded us of a much younger Seattle.  Soon we were finishing off a hefty load of laundry and rolling up the coast, passing the ubiquitous "lobster shacks".  Yep, quickly,  all we could think about was Lobster mania.  This red crustacean bobbed in our minds as shack after shack passed us by.  We stopped at some of these to research the cost.  For around 20 bucks one can eat a cooked Lobster meal.  But, having eaten recently we postponed our growing craving.  I'll admit, we only survived due to Trader Joe's mini peanut butter pretzels.  

270 miles after leaving Rumney (and approaching our days end), we arrived at Acadia National Park.  This hodgepodge of islands and mainland, comprised of both public and private property, is the most visited National Park in America.  Millions come here annually (mostly East Coasters I think) to take in the park.  There are lavish resort harbors like Bar Harbor, cruise ships, and lots of people.  Despite our arriving off season and on mid week, our fellow tourists were out in force.  Our first stop upon entering the park was Cadillac Mountain.  This is the highest point on Desert Island (1300 or so feet) and commanding an expansive 360 degree view of the islands slopes, lakes, and adjacent waterways.   

Feeling the need for some exercise the following day (after spending so much time jammed in the rig), we were soon exploring some of the 45 miles of carriage roads that lace Desert Island.  Nearly 100 years ago, one of the famous Rockefeller's poured millions into these roads which would serve as a buffer against the encroaching thunder of the automobile.  We enjoyed a nice 20 mile loop passing picturesque lakes, ponds, creeks, and hillsides laden with autumnal color. We also found a much appreciated escape from the crowds.  Really, this was the highlight of our time in Acadaia, though we thought the one way loop road along the SE coastline also memorable. 

We discovered many nice hangout spot along the SE coastline.  There are beaches, cliffs, and many pullouts.  As evening wore on, we made a concerted effort to arrive at the SW side of the island (the location of an iconic lighthouse...forget the name) for sunset.  
This gull was really struttin' his stuff.  Later on I attempted to give him a hug.

Here little birdie, birdie...
Line up here boys!

We arrive just in time to witness a majestic sunset.  The photogs were en force!  Tripods, slr's, tilt shift lens's, filters; yeah, they were going to TOWN!  There must be some gravitational force associated with postcard type lighthouses.  

Lobster mainia!
We both agreed it sure was Purdy!  After getting our fill, we wandered into Bass Harbor (located on the West side of the island), and found ourselves some LOBSTER!  We both agreed it was well worth the cost of admission.  Maine lobster... check!
Tiffers taking in the harbor the morning after Lobsterville.
Shagg Crag.
The next morning we packed it up and blasted off for the hills of Western Maine.  There is a hollowed place called Shagg Crag on the border of the White Mountains.  Steep overhanging granite like clip ups adorn the base of Bald Mountain.  Granite for the most part doesn't yield itself to features when the rock gets steep.  But, at Shagg one can find incut flakes, crimps, and jugs littering its precipice.  
The foliage in this region was really beginning to pop.  To get to the crag requires 30 minutes of moderate hiking.  The only downside was that our falcon guide (the only guide showing descriptions for the area) wasn't really accurate.  To our delight and chagrin, there weren't any of those 'locals' around to point the way (we guessed they were all at Rumney).  Blatant misinformation combined with a bit of sandbaggery on the moderate routes left Tiff with little options.  That said, she had mercy on Ben's curiosity, and provided some much needed belay action.

Ben was psyched to clip the anchors of nearly every route first try (five routes 12a - 12d).  There was one 12c/d that threw him one of those expansive 'jump over to that hold' cause you ain't reaching that hold sucka moves.  It required hanging onto some marginal crimps on a slightly overhung section with no feet and jumping left a few feet.  My left hand managed to connect with this hold 3rd go as my body swung wildly in retaliation against my lateral journey.  
Thanks again goes to my Tiffers for letting me sample the mighty Shagg crag.  I'd recommend this place to anyone with a penchant for steeps, granite, and beautiful views.  The top of cliff (bald mountain) lies a few minutes from the climber trail cutoff and provides excellent vistas.  In many ways Shagg reminded me of the Blues Cliff at Index...only steeper.  Shagg is a jewel.   With our curiosity quenched, we once again pulled anchor, and moved on...I could say more, but the sun is out, and so are we!

Friday, October 15, 2010

New England!

Today wasn't made for outdoor recreation; the rain is coming down sideways and the national weather people are calling for a wind advisory through tomorrow.  Snow is also expected to accumulate above 2000 feet!  Has winter really arrived here in New England?  Forecasts indicate that the sun might return next week.  But, this is one of those days that fits perfectly into our schedule as a designated rest day.  And, there is nothing I'd rather do than sit here (at starbucks of course), blog, and watch the heavens unleash outside as I contemplate such nastiness from my cosy table nook.
New England is the motherlode of covered bridges.

After spending our first couple days in Burlington Vermont, we kicked off our tour by doing exactly that.  Aside from Maple Syrup, Vermont should be noted as a maverick amongst states by it being home to Ben & Jerry's Ice cream.  Perhaps our country doesn't see eye to eye on politics...but there shouldn't be any naysayers to me declaring Ben & Jerry's the best premium ice cream available.  Their flavors are nothing less than mouth watering and their dedication to making ice cream void of hormone contaminated dairy products is commendable.

I'd like to take this a little further by suggesting Coffee Heath Bar Crunch the best ice cream flavor on planet earth.  Subjectivity aside, could this be possible?   The Tour costs roughly 3 bucks and is well worth it.  After hearing the history and surveying one of the major production warehouses, the tour climaxes with ice cream tasting.  Unfortunately, they only offer one flavor to sample.

After taking the tour and seeing Smuggler's Notch we made our way to Montpelier.  This is Vermont's seat of government.  It was dark and raining by now and so we hit up a Red Box, found an appropriate overnight camping site (motel somewhere), ate dinner, and watched Iron Man 2.  Though not quite as good as the first one, it was a pleasant distraction from the rain.

The following day as we wandered across Vermont into New Hampshire, we took note of numerous cute towns and their inherent old New England style Architecture.  Everything here feels much older than back home.  And, by and large 'white' seems to be the dominant theme.

In the early afternoon we arrived at Crawford's Notch. There was a nice little lake, and after being crammed in the Van all day, it felt great to take the loop trail around the lake and stretch the legs.

So far we had noticed a lackluster color spectrum in Vermont which usually is popping by this time of the year.  Some locals told us that a long dry summer combined with an early fall storm had taken its toll.  To their credit, we did see many trees that were stripped of their leaves, but also ones that were still completely green or brown.  With our fingers crossed (in hopes of finding some of that famous New England Fall color) we kept hope alive.

That night I believe we spent in North Conway.  This town is known among climbers as being the center of New England rock climbing.  There are numerous crags including Cathedral, White Horse, Cannon Cliff, and Rumney within an hours drive.  The first couple of these are less than 10 minutes from town.

The next morning we were greeted with predominately blue skies.  Rejoicing at our climbing friendly weather we drove to Cathedral and ate breakfast in the sun.  But, being in the mood for some slab climbing we soon sauntered over to White Horse Slabs.  Being the designated lead climber of our team, and not having climbed slab in many months, I was feeling a little anxious.  For, White Horse is known for its lack of protection.  The first pitch of our route had one bolt in 200 feet.  Yes, it was probably 5.6, but jeepers, the transition into this style under such runout conditions was a tad jarring.  Tiffers, a brilliant 'nose over toes' climber walked the pitch, half of it not even using her hands.
Tiffers 'slabmaster' Gilkison making it look easy...

9 rope lengths, and a few hours later we topped out to a spectacular vista.  It appears that we arrived on top in the nick of time as approaching clouds and rain were imminent.   Upon returning to our packs (stashed at the base), it was beginning to rain.  Yeah, wet slab climbing isn't fun folks.  Our one rope would have made a retreat a little tricky to say the least.

It was a Rainbow finish for us at the top of White Horse.

Anyone seen a ghost?

Me getting ready to pull the crux of Tsunami.
With our appetite for slab whetted, we battened the hatches, hoisted anchor, and were soon cruising the Kancamagus through mountainous ravines and mixed forests.  It was here that we started to notice more fall color.  However, the light was fading fast and there simply wasn't time to spare for many photographic adventures.  We did pull out on the side of the road for this quick grab.  It wasn't until later that I noticed what can happen when finger smudges get out of hand; and ones nice river landscape is adorned by weird ghost like apparitions.  Time to deep clean the gear!

It was well after dark that we arrived at Rumney, NH. This town hosts one of the more renown sport climbing venues in the NE.  The next morning we soon discovered that people really like Rumney.  Granted, it was Canadian Turkey day (and a 3 day weekend for them), but long gone were the days of solitude.  By 10 the main parking lots was bulging with over 70 cars.  And, those not able to fit were parking at more removed lots, and walking past in droves.  It was comical to us, because while climbing at places like Tensleep, and only seeing 4 or 5 people in a week (we would comment during these times that it would be nice if we had more company), being at Rumney was almost zoo like, and far too many people for us.  Locals boggled us further by claiming that things weren't that busy; and that on a truly jammed weekend there were an additional 100 cars that would park in farmers field across the street.  But, enough of the anti overpopulation diatribe...  Once we got on the routes we found a playground of safely protected climbs on Shist.  At least, that is what our falcon guide called it.  It reminded me much more of the Gneiss found at Newhalem WA.  With almost every angle and hold type available, there is something for every climber at Rumney.  We truly appreciated that not just the 'hard' climbs were high quality.  Rumney also yields plenty high caliber routes for those climbing sub 5.10.

Ben did enjoy clipping the anchors of a few 12's up to 12c first try; and also getting humbled by a few 12d's, one of which he onsighted the crux only to fall at a long reach, which for him meant 'not so likely' dynoville.  For those of you less savvy to climbing jargon...I got served.  After 10 days off from sport climbing it felt great to be back on the rock again.  After two days of at Rumney navigating the hordes, we were ready for some rest.  And, so we piled back into the white beast and took aim for Maine!  To be continued...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Devil's Tower to Nickle & Dimeville

With the Big Horn's mighty Tensleep Canyon fading in our review mirror, we wound over prairie hills, only stopping in Gillett for some duct tape and groceries.  Our 1/4 electrical tape at this point wasn't quite holding the one inch hole in our blown Engine hose.  And, with the Dodge Dealership in Rapid City a few days down the turnpike, we decided it best to get a more durable band aid.

It was while we were still a  couple hours from Gillett that we noticed a high pitch whine coming from under the hood.  A couple hours on the road with no turbo and Ben's hair was starting to turn gray.  Don't worry, it eventually turned back into its sandy blonde self.  Our theory proved correct when later we opened er' up to find the electrical tape a gory wad of adhesive shrapnel.

Home Depot we love you!  For a few greenbacks we were back in business; and of course, our white box was once again purrring like a kitten.

Above...Devil's Tower framed with some nice grass.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure to visit Eastern Wyoming...  from out of the vast and rolling grasslands, a visual relief arises out of nowhere.  Devil's Tower sticks up over 500 feet above the surrounding terrain.  And, so it wasn't a surprise that for many miles we saw it looming and growing bigger upon our approach.

Devil's Tower National Monument was a first of its kind.  Considering that Yellowstone National Park was also the first National park, it begs the question?  There must be some special preferential aspect to Wyoming...  at least, we think so.

We arrived late in the day on the 29th to find very few Tourons wandering its slopes.  We quickly viewed the visitors center and proceeded to take the 1.3 mile loop trail (paved) around the tower.  It felt REAL nice to be out of the van and on our feet.  Towards the North side we took care to observe our chosen route for the following day: Assemblyline via Wave Line.  510-.

Interestingly enough, this columnar basalt looking formation is much more akin to granite.  In my mind I had always pictured it as basalt though.  Devil's Tower also stands out because the columns go all the way around in a continuous unbroken wall.  Very cool!

During our hike around the Tower we witnessed lots of wildlife: these included turkey vultures, groundhogs, peregrin falcons, and other birds that we couldn't identify.

There were also {read}--lots-- of white tailed deer, many of which appeared quite young.  Most of them looked just like bambi.

Tiffers here sitting on a bench deciding on where our route is...

Ben here getting a little on the artsy side with this juxtaposed shot.  The Ponderosa Pines were in fact quite beautiful.

And, our trip wouldn't have been complete without these little rascals.  Upon entering the park there is a field filled with these furrballs.  You just want to take one with you they are that cute!  Unfortunately, the NPS forbids tourists from actually netting them.

Ben {shown below} feeling quite peaceful sitting below our chosen route.
The climb we chose was 4 pitches in length and 5.10-.  For those of you non climbers, that means it took four rope lengths of rope to attain the summit.

The guide book warns that climbing here on the columns can be a little on the stiff side due to the long pitches and splitter nature...

Tiffany really showed her adroit footwork and dispatched the first couple pitches with no falls (10a).  Nice job hon!

However, the 3rd pitch (5.9) both served us a little humble pie.  Though Ben didn't fall (which is good because he had to run it out major; 25 ft between some placements) he apparently missed the "belay" (this is a term for where I would anchor myself into the wall to then bring up my second 'tiffers'.  In this case it was a bolted belay).  Being strapped into a light 9.2mm 80 meter rope didn't help things.  By the time I realized I had passed the belay I was a good 60 foot above the anchor (over 200 feet from the beginning of the pitch) and running out of gear.  Fortunately, I was able to find a nice ledge and one meager crack which took my remaining gear.  It was then that I realized some of my fatigue was due to not eating lunch.  It may sound like a rookie mistake...but, I am notorious for doing this.

Tiffers only looks like she doesn't have a rope on!  Magic.

Looking a little run out here Gilkison.

Tiffers showing some gumption on the enduro 5.9 pitch.  As you can see here, the columns are big!



That was so much fun!

Can you lower me down so that I can do that again?

Actually, she didn't say that...

Tiff had actually not climbed a single crack in 2 or 3 years.  And, I want to say that she did a commendable job for a person with almost 0 experience on hand cracks.

Nice work baby!

Looking down on the 4th pitch belay and Devils Tower in the background.

Some nice folks were on top and offered to take our picture!  The Tower is flat on top with a 360 degree view of the surrounding terrain.
During our decent we were privy to soft light and a tapestry of nature.

Some birds here making short work of the summit columns.

We both had a great time climbing the tower and would recommend it to anyone in the area.

There are guide services and easier routes on the South Face; which is actually the side that we rappelled down. With little or no experience most people of modest athletic ability can climb this iconic rock tower.

The Badlands.
DO it!  Ben shown here coiling the 80 meter beast.  And above lies the Durance route.  At 5.6 it is the easiest route to the summit.  And, for that reason, it is quite popular.

Our plan was to finish the Tower and drive to the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota that evening.  But frankly, we both felt worked and so opted to stay just outside the Monument at a climber type dig.  It is owned by a climbing ranger named Frank.  We were able to take a nice outdoor shower (yes, the first one in over a week) which nearly brought tears to our eyes.  A weekly shower just makes sense no?

The next morning we made the decision to forgo the Needles of the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore for later.  We just didn't think that we would be able to do the area justice this round.  Instead we hammered it to Rapid City and spent most of the day sitting in  Dodge Dealership while they dragged their feet around.  Most importantly, we did take care of that nasty hose problem!  The warranty was still in affect which probably saved us 200 smackers at least.  After that... a blizzard from DQ.  There is only one tonic for wasting a day at a car dealership:  Ice Cream.

Once done with that we made short work of SD, making sure to take in Badlands National Park.  Not much to do here but look.

Our van equipped with a new hose!

Badlands is a nice place to see if you are ever in SD; but, due to the lack of recreation opportunity we both agreed that it probably isn't our favorite NP.

Still, with a setting sun this place is gorgeous as the light plays off this bizarre landscape.

South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York...

We drove, slept, drove, slept, drove.  I know that wasn't a grammatically correct sentence.  But, remember, this is only a silly blog.  And, college was a long time ago for Ben; though, that probably isn't an adequate excuse.

One thing that we would like to point out is TOLL ROADS.  Yes, we had seen something suggesting an obligatory payment somewhere around Chicago and then continuing most of the way across the 90.  But, really folks...we are here to say that we almost spent 60$ on tolls between Chicago and Niagra Falls.  Yep, we didn't purchase one of those "easy" passes.  So, we stopped at every toll booth.  I'd wager that we ended up stopping on the freeway no less than 15 times at Toll Booths.  This could be an exaggeration of course...a little artistic license if you will.  I'll let you be the judge.  No, really, it was crazy.  After getting our wallet shaken upside-down for road taxes on the 90 we agreed that we should have taken another route.  People: travel on the Canadian side.  Top off your tank before the border and then forge across.  We were so, er, naive.

Niagara Falls.  It is truly impressive.  We had a great hour riding our bikes around the State Park island  and taking in the sites.  This happened to be a rainy weekday in the off season, and still there were hordes of tourists.  Evidently this is one of the most popular State parks around.
This guy was getting it all!  Notice the determination, the raw focus, the wild look in his eyes!

Burlington, VT.  This guy is really making an interesting living.  

After visiting Niagara we made the final leg of our Journey to Burlington Vt; arriving there at 1230 in the am.  We are excited that the 30 hours of driving between Rapid City and here are at an end.  Now, we can get down to business in New England.  Thanks goes to Peter and Jovial Kamitses for letting us crash in their driveway, feeding us, and letting us wash our road grime away.  Today marks our second day in Vermont and can't say enough good things about it.  That's it for now.  Gilkison's out!