Sunday, February 13, 2011

California Bound!

This will perhaps be the first time in many months that I've been able to come current with this travel journal.  Up until recently, I was always a few weeks behind.  Now I have an opportunity to change all that.  Oh joy!

Linda's slippers, so cute.
For those of you who read our last update, we are moving to Palo Alto, CA for a few months.  Tiffany took a thirteen week travel nursing assignment with Stanford University.  Neither of us has lived in the Bay Area, and we are excited to explore San Francisco, the California Coast, and to live life out of the box.  That's right, we will be exercising a three month hiatus from our illustrious Vansion lifestyle.  Ben (mua) will hopefully find some short term work, and find his place in the Bay Area economic machine.  In addition, I will also be allocating energy into studies, which will help me be better prepared for school.  For those of you not graced with my future intentions, I've decided to work towards a career in Physical Therapy.  It's been over ten years since finishing my B.A in History; and completing and navigating the arsenal of Math/Science prerequisites will certain to be a challenge, but one I'm looking forward to.

Us and the Storey's!
Flashback...after leaving Hueco Tanks we drove most of the night, stopping just past the Arizona State Line.  The following day we arrived in gorgeous Tuscon to visit two of my parents best friends, Dave and Linda Storey!  At 10am we pulled into their driveway, and within minutes we were being serenaded by hugs, spectacular caffeinated creations, and perhaps the best scrambled eggs we've ever eaten (sorry Loni).  With plans to arrive in Palm Springs for dinner with Tiff's grandparents, we had only a two hour window for the visit.  However, Dave and Linda were so engaging, and we were all having so much fun, that it wasn't until 1:45pm that we realized we were almost two hours beyond our cutoff.

There isn't a greater authenticity of hospitality but that which flows the farthest from home.  It was so great meeting you Dave and Linda!  We thought Tuscan beautiful; the city is surrounded by rugged mountains in all directions.

After saying our goodbye's we were on the road again.  Vicious headwinds became an official adversary just West of Phoenix.  For three hours I had the drivers wheel cranked to 3 o'clock.  Our path rarely deviated from absolute straight.  Dust storms also raged in all directions, though, we avoided them for the most part.  Vision remained good for the rest of our drive into Palm Springs.  Normally a benefit, the Vansion's high profile makes driving in significant gales trying to say the least.

Official "Dust/Wind Storm" warning signs were all ablaze as we crossed the California border.  Thankfully. the warnings never led to anything significant.  But, we did hear about 5 big rig semi's that were knocked over by the wind later the next day.  The news didn't report any Sprinter debacles to our knowledge.

With weeks of living in the New Mexican desert comes lethargy.  And, what van dwellers need every blue moon is a little vacation away from their vacation.  Enter Palm Springs!  Tiff's grandparents John and Pat purchased a quiet condo in the oasis of Rancho Mirage back in the late 80's.  And, it was our good fortune that they just happened to be visiting.  During the next five days we had the pleasure of their fine company, excellent cuisine, and comfort of hot tub living.  Our last two days spiked into the low 80's and we had some nice lounging by the pool and bronzing our spirits.

Tiff completed many tasks and requirements for her new job as well.  She had blood draws, x-rays, Oncology exams, and other multitudinous and laborious paperwork to complete.

One day we spent at Joshua Tree.  This place is extra special for me.  During my college years I spent many days cutting my teeth out at Joshua Tree National (Monument as it was then) Park.  Learning the ropes at Joshua Tree meant slab climbing!  Oh yes, I had ample opportunity to develop my nose over toes climbing; and to find calm in the face of nerve wracking runouts (this is where ones gear recedes so far into the background that ones legs start to shake and look much like Elvis on stage), and to plummet on my first lead falls.  Mitch "don't pitch" Golden was my mentor at this time; and being back in the park brought back many a memory from the day.

Mitigating the reachy crux with patina intermediates on Gunsmoke
With all that driving and lounging by the pool, it felt absolutely invigorating to be out climbing and wandering about that surreal wonderland that is Josh.  We started out at Echo rock and climbed four delicious slabs.  It was quite a shock to engulfed in a sea of friction, with nary a jug or pocket in sight.  But, slab climbing is a lot like riding a bike.  Once learned, it usually only takes a few pitches before the movement and trust become once again familiar.  After lunching in the Vansion we hiked out to Arid Piles so that I could give the Acid Crack 12d a try.  Well, perhaps going from 6 months of sport climbing (and very little gear climbing) to a burly old school Joshua Tree trad route wasn't the best idea.  The real problem was the heat!  Though temperatures were only in the 60's, this route is nestled in an oven like niche, and by the time we arrived and racked up beads of sweat were running down my face.  Being somewhat anxious in the face of this formal adversary I cast off.  Yes, I'm sure you saw it coming.  I fell.  The crack's finger jams felt like they were smeared in ankle grease and I probably clipped a superfluous amount of gear on my way to plummet city.  Deeming conditions unreasonable, I cleaned my gear, and said adios to Acid Crack.  For all you crack monkey's out there, don't try this in the sun unless temps are in the 30's.  Better yet, get on this masterpiece in the cool morning of a balmy spring day.  It is a stunna!

Having thoroughly worked my nerves but not my forearms, we sauntered out to the Gunsmoke Traverse at Barker Dam.  8 laps later I was cooked, and the skin on my fingertips was absolute hamburger.

A lovely evening at Palm Springs Elephant Bar.

Feeling refreshed from our stay in Palm Springs, we cast off for the Eastside of the Sierra.  Here we lingered for a week climbing some at the Owen's River Gorge and skiing for one day at the Mammoth Ski Area.

Ten years ago I spent three inglorious days as a Mammoth Ski Patrol after three weeks in training.  My reasons for quitting the patrol were manifold and I've always had a bitter taste in my mouth when thinking about this area; which must surely be one of the most beautiful ski areas in the world (at least I think).  Spending the day on the
mountain quelled many of those latent memories.
And, I can frankly say I harbor no ill will anymore.  For Tiff it was her first day skiing on the mountain, and for both of us it was our first day skiing in over a year.  The tickets there are ludicrously expensive, but for one exceptionally sunny day of primo groomers, we felt satisfied.  Skiing is fun!!  Some pics from our day:

Mountain smells:  there are two things you should know about Mammoth.  Firstly, once purchasing your lift ticket (the cost of which might have paid for a few dinners at the brew pub), pack yourself a lunch.  There are at least five different lodges scattered over the mountain; and on a sunny day, one is almost constantly bombarded with delicious cooking odors.

Secondly, don't fall in any tree wells.  Because, Mammoth is on the edge of an ancient volcanic caldera and the site of toxic gases that issue from different vents on the mountain.  These gases don't pose a serious concern for most skiiers; but, dangerous levels of gas do exist in certain low points, like tree wells.  We are pretty sure there should be a run named "fart alley".

Just another day in the "office".
One day we spent climbing and hanging out with my best man Paul Tomlinson at the Owen's River Gorge.  This guy is not only funny, but a climbing maverick, and one of my closest friends.  Paul, fresh from sending his first V10 boulder problem "Stained Glass" in the Buttermilks, and sporting at least four split tips, simply mummified his fingers with athletic tape, and demolished lap after lap of rope stretching clip ups.  It was great catching up with you P-Town!  And, please don't tell anyone about the pink plastic measuring devices...

Camping on the Eastside of the Sierra is unreal.  Just up the hill from the Owen's lies stellar camping options with amazing vistas.  Two mountain ranges encompass the valley.  We were treated to several majestic sunsets up here in the Pinyon Pines.

The other sweet thing about the Eastside is Hot Springs.  There are at least 7 that I've heard of.  They are free, hot, and the perfect ending to any day.  Some smell like rotten eggs, but that is just part of the fun.  And, if one really has a case of the farts, no one will ever know.

Another climbing friend, Patrick  O'Donnell moved down to Bishop this last September.  And, we had the privilege of hanging out with him one evening at his "man cave", eating pizza, and sharing a brew.  He was also kind enough to let us shower.  Big thanks Patrick!

And, on our last day at the Owen's he joined us in the Gorge.  I repeated a new 12b extension he put up on the Great Wall of China.  Excellent stuff!

But, notwithstanding the plentitude of routes, I wasn't really feeling motivated; and try as I might, I didn't finish even two of the five 13's that I had purposed to finish.  One route called Fight Club caught my interest, but the chipped holds and lack of feet, and extremely reachy moves reminded me of why I don't like manufactured routes.  Sure, sometimes they are good fun.  But, I really seem to like natural routes that don't climb like gym routes; which are mostly created with only one body type in mind (ahem, the route setters).  Still, I did enjoy spending some serious time soaking in the sun, and shredding my post Palm Springs tips.   My favorite routes were definitely the 5.10's.  The Owen's has perhaps the most fun 5.10 sport climbing I've ever been on.  The routes are long and classic!

Patrick O'Donnell bouldering at the Sad Boulders.

This brings us up to this morning!  Wow, I'm actually going to leave you current for once.  Last night we drove to Bridgeport's Travertine Hot Springs.  These springs were recommended to us by Paul, who stopped by on his way down from Bend.  We we not disappointed.  Nestled high on a ridge lies this natural wonder.  No less than four tubs are accessible within a minutes walk.  The tub featured to the right is crafted out of cement.  Temperature is controlled by readjusting a sock in the irrigation canal that feeds the pool.

The other three pools are situated just down the hillside at the base of a spectacular Tufa like structure, cut down the middle by a two inch limestone funnel that drops steaming hot water into the upper pool.  The breathtaking backdrop of the Sierra make this place extra special.  We soaked for several hours this morning before vacating.

That's all for now!  Hope you enjoyed the photos.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Mex Numero Dos!

For many of you, the winter of 2011 has been brutal & frigid; the scene of record breaking snowfall.  However...there is a place where the sun shines yet!  In the Guadalupe Mountains NE of Carlsbad New Mexico we were lucky enough to find balmy temperatures, exquisite limestone, and better yet, no crowds.  In fact, during our two week stay we saw no more than four other climbers.  With over 120 fully bolted sport climbs, Last Chance Canyon ranks amongst my favorite venues from our trip.  The diversity of routes in Last Chance is amazing.  There are 15 different walls staggered throughout a winding canyon.  At all times of the day one can climb in sun or shade, on steeps, or techy faces littered with pockets, edges, and aesthetic water streaks.  Route quality spans the grade spectrum as well.  Five star 5.10's stand side by side with endurance based 12's and 13's equal in quality.   For those of you less internet savvy, one can enlarge these photos by simply 'clicking' on them.  

This area reminded me of a Desert version of Ten Sleep Canyon in Wyoming.  Only, there are far less routes to choose from.  From the canyon rim a fifteen minute jaunt takes you down a blunt ridge, where several trails branch out to the different crags.  We thought the descent wasn't more than 500 feet though the website describes it as 1000 ft.  Another distinguishing factor here is wind!  If you have a car/van to sleep in, we would highly recommend it.  One night our van was so wracked by ferocious gusts that we lost half a nights sleep.  That said, we were parked closer to the trailhead, which is probably the most exposed.  Several excellent camping sites are found closer to the pinyon pines and do provide some buffer.   Tent camping would be a most unpleasant adventure here.  The wind blows, and so does the dust.  Fortunately, the canyon provides significant relief from the wind.  With Carlsbad temp's in the mid 60's we were able to climb in the shade and sun.  

Carlsbad lies a little over an hour away, depending on if one has 4x4, runs into a stampede of cattle, or is around the ripe age of 20.  We found the cheapest showers available at Brantley Lake State Park.  Admission to Brantley was 5$ a vehicle.  They also have superb picnic areas and high dispersion water spigots.  One can fill water at the Guadalupe Ranger station just East of Queen, but, we found the water to have a little too much dirt in it.  Evidently, during a recent construction project the 'men' had accidentally broken the water main; which hadn't been sketched in the original schematic.  Queen is roughly an hour from Carlsbad, and from here, four miles of heinous forest roads take one out to the trailhead at the end of FR 525a.  Thankfully, we have quite a bit of clearance on the vansion.  Those four miles would normally take us 20-25 minutes once we became familiar with the more notorious sections.  Ultimately, it wasn't really that bad.  And, our decision to brave the road was well worth the adventure.  Drive slow and cautious, and you too will probably make it to Last Chance.

In the summertime, cattle wander all over the place, grazing, and otherwise loitering about the canyon.  Though we didn't run into any cattle, we saw many organic artifacts, reminding us to watch our footing.  Deer roam in abundance in the Guadalupe National Forest and so do their corresponding prey.  In fact, during our stay (and only a few miles away), a cougar had taken down a 1200 pound ranch horse.  The boys, having caught wind of this responded with obvious anxiety; looking often over their shoulders for the killer mountain lion.  Experts say that the taking of cattle and horses by cougars is a definite precursor to more open aggression towards humans.  Needless to say, none of us went to far by our lonesome during our stay after hearing the latest news.

Trail running around looked real nice...but, with mega cougars on the loose, none of us ventured out to lure the mountain kitties.  

Tiffany reaching for the sky.

Jeremy...almost always psyched.
The sunsets here in New Mexico were awe inspiring.  After a perfect day of climbing we would often get together with the boys for some Farkle.  One night we made them a mexican feast.  Since they both live in Jeremy's Subaru Outback, and have no campstove, it was a special gift to see these two enjoying a hot meal!  Sharing our travels with other road trippers from Washington was extra special.  Not that Tiff and I ever get bored of one another, but, it was great to have other people to socialize with.  Also, it provided some extra bodies for pictures.  And without them, we wouldn't have any of the climbing shots that adorn this blog.

Jeremy making short work of Black Plague 13b.  Mono's...

Lowering off of Santa Fe 12c.  This line rides an incredible wave of limestone on slightly suspect stone.  Jugs!

One afternoon while filling water at the local ranger office, a friendly ranger informed us that hundreds of wild caves graced the Guadalupe hills.  Only a handful were open to the public though.  And, if we were to explore any of them we would need permits, that were only attainable at the Carlsbad Forestry Office.  So, one rest day back in Carlsbad we stopped by the office.  The ancient forest clergy behind the desk told us all kinds of stories and Guadalupe lore.  And, before leaving were generous enough to grace us with a permit for Cottonwood Cave.  This permit allowed all four of us one day to explore this horizontal cave without tour guides.  And, moreover, we would be the only ones allowed there that day.  

Carlsbad Caverns was a marvelous experience, but, having to walk a concrete path with railings was limiting to my more adventurous inclinations.  Cottonwood cave was the perfect counterpart.  It enabled us to have a more intimate experience with those magical limestone formations.  Though left to our own more or less, we were still on a path made of ribbon set down by the forestry department.  Understandably, without some path sensitive formations would get trampled.

We spent a couple hours all told wandering around the cave, examining and exploring.  One crack down at the end led to a nice small room with wormhole type tunnel.  Mike and I had a fun time stuffing our bodies into this micro chasm.  It was no small feat to turn our selves around and return!

Though my minute stature never helped with soccer, basketball and many other conventional sports, it certainly is beneficial to caving.  I'm sure had I been in Nam, I would have been one of those unlucky chaps sent down tunnels searching out the 'enemy'.  

Yep, I fit in some real tight spaces!

Before leaving New Mexico we paid 20 smackers for a ranger led tour of the "Hall of the White Giants".  This tour was described as strenuous with lots of tunneling, scrambling, and other types of spelunking activity.  

We enjoyed the tour, but, thought the price tag not quite worth the tour.  Our Ranger was in training and it was her first time leading the tour.  

Personally, I was expecting something far more rigorous and challenging.  There were several persons on the tour who had quite a time of the challenges, and so there was lots of standing around and waiting.  Though I'll not be swapping out my climbing shoes for caving slippers anytime soon; it was fun to try something new and to see such beautiful and hidden treasures!

Back to Last Chance: here are some more shots from our time there.

Ben onsighting It puts the Buff on (13a).  This cave had some great jug hauls.  

This picture (left) shows Mike on one of the steep Mad Cow Wall routes.  This is definitely best wall in terms of variety.  Climbs start steep and pumpy on the right end.  Further left their are some longer and more technical routes like Big Daddy, Mad Cow, and Ebola.  And, at the extreme left end the wall turns into the Hueco Cave.  The routes in this latter place were reported by Jeremy as a little sandy, so I didn't explore here; though, the cave is definitely impressive.  Fixed draws would be really nice here...

Finishing out Bubbles 13b.

Tiffany enjoying some warm rock at Breakfast Wall.

One morning we delivered a pancake feast for the boys.  They agreed that breakfast is the most important meal of the day!  Yummy.

This is Jeremy and Mike.  They live together in a Subaru.  

If you run into these two boys make sure to feed them something warm.

Otherwise, they will mostly be living off of Chef Boyardee, kipper snacks, and Subway.

The hike up from the Canyon was the perfect finish to every climbing day.  We love working in that cardio to our climbing.

By now most of you are probably not even reading anymore, and I don't blame you.  This layer to our blogosphere is snowballing out of control.  But, I just can't stop posting pictures.

Mike, Tiff, and Jeremy.  Note the far away look in Mike's eyes.  Right about now he was dreaming of some splitter crack far away.

Before closing out our New Mexico blog I've got to mention an excellent Last Chance Canyon diversion.  Down canyon from the LC climbing lies Sitting Bull Falls (SFB).  Here there are picnic facilities, bathrooms, and water.   The falls are fed by some springs that pour over a Travertine top.  In the warmer months people flock here from all over NM and TX.  

From the LC parking lot it is a 50 minute drive to the parking area at Sitting Bull Falls.  One must drive back to Queen along that heinous road, come down from the mountains, and back around....

However, from LC if one continues down 525 for 10 minutes, there is a trailhead.  The hike down to the Falls from here only takes 30 minutes.  So, one day we did just this.  Situated just above the parking lot in Sitting Bull is an amazing cave of steep, pocketed, bullet hard limestone.  In the far right cave there is a slew of excellent 5.12's and a couple 13's.  And, on the far left side is another good looking wall.  Unfortunately, this wall has a Bee nest.  Yes, these ones have been confirmed to be Killer Bees.  

Here are some examples of SBF.

Jeremy onsighting perhaps the best 12b in New Mex.  This place was awesome!

For those of you still with us, we have some exciting news!  One day while in Carlsbad Tiffany interviewed with Stanford University's Medical center...and received a Travel Nursing Job working on their Oncology floor.  It was originally our intent to spend part of our road trip working; and we couldn't be more excited about this recent development.  Palo Alto is home to Stanford.  And, that is currently where we are headed.  Tiff's position begins on February 21st and runs till the end of May.  

Upon receiving her job, we had to move along a tight schedule to California to begin the California Nursing Licensing process.  But, we did manage one day at the fabled bouldering area of Hueco Tanks, TX.  This day of bouldering was perhaps my 6th day ever of pebble wrestling in all my climbing years.  When I get time to climb I prefer to be on longer adventures.  That said, we had a nice time clawing our way up the boulders of Hueco.  It certainly was a change of pace after seven months of straight sport climbing.  This was Tiff's first time on the small rocks.  She enjoyed learning this new art: spotting, lacing up, cheering, and hanging out with the troops; and performing some of her most difficult climbing movement ever!

Here are some pics!

The following day my ankles were a little sore from all the ground falls.  Those pads are nice...but, this is definitely a young mans sport.  Personally, I prefer falling into the air and not hitting the ground. 

Lastly, thanks for catching up with our online travel journal.  Hopefully, it has been entertaining!  And, thanks again to all who left comments on New Mex Numero Uno blog.  It is fun to hear from all of you!  

I love this lady!