Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Paradigm Shift

The Mammoth Caldera

Days have grown short, the nights frigid, and the hourglass empty.  We've somehow managed to live in a small white box with wheels for roughly 450 days.  Now, with only days left till our arrival back in Seattle, there is no denying the imminent shift so close at hand.  Here in Bishop (CA) we're still lingering in the high desert sunshine, finding sunny walls to climb on, and hot springs to absorb any and all anxieties.

In the course of the last couple weeks we've experienced many different landscapes from Nashville to Bishop.  I'm going to let these pictures mostly tell our story.  Thanks to all whom have enjoyed our North American travels, and have from time to time found inspiration from our little online narrative.  "Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"  --- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ---

Upon leaving Nashville, the weather was always just beyond our reach.  So, instead of spending some time climbing at the Horseshoe Ranch in Arkansas, we bee lined it for the Desert SW.  After 20 hours on the road, we eked a very meager workout at Albuquerque's local climbing gym.  Can you say stiff?  So, we did a bunch of 30 foot top ropes with nary an extra foothold and called it good.  Before hitting it, we topped off our tank and fodder at TJ's.  By midnight we were in Gallup, NM.  Morning came early and we busted it up to Cortez and onto Mesa Verde National Park.  It was Monday, icy cold, and exceptionally beautiful.  I'd say there are no better times to visit our National Parks than in Winter.  For me, the experience is always far better when the crowds are not present.  It was a first time for both of us at Mesa Verde.  Here's some of what we saw:

Mesa Verde National Park
Our knowledgeable Ranger.
Imagine going for a hike and finding this.
Pueblo peoples also had wine cellars.  How cool?
During our visit we took a ranger led tour of the only cliff dwelling available in the Winter (Spuce Tree).  He explained the known and speculative history associated with the different hunter/gatherer types who lived in the Desert SW over the last Thousand years.

It was incredible to imagine people farming up in these high Mesa mountains with primitive tools and agricultural techniques.

After the tour we took a nice hike along the Mesa.  Then we drove a loop road with many viewpoints down to other cliff dwellings.

The following day we made our way to the Grand Canyon's South rim.  Needless to say, there were still lots of people, tour buses, and the like.

I'd last been there in 99', fresh out of College and on my very first road trip (living in an old Jetta).  Yes, this time I actually got out of the car and took a hike along the rim.  Though we didn't have time to hike to the bottom, we did catch plenty of breathtaking views.

Aptly named, this place is indeed "Grand".

The Grandiose Canyon
Where is the bottom?
Grand Canyon Lovin'

That night we punched it another couple hours up to Paige, AZ.  This set us up for a shorter drive to Zion National Park the following day.  In the early morning we took a few minutes to soak up Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.  Hmmmm, lots of barbed wire, concrete and power!  Ayn Rand would have been proud.

That said, we were happy to have such a nice road and bridge to make our way over the Colorado Canyon.

Not Edward Abby's sweetheart.

With Paige trailing behind us, we sauntered up to the Eastern entrance to Zion.  Tiff hadn't been here before and it was fun to point out some of the more famous rock formations.  Zion's Shuttle Bus was out for the season, and soon we found ourselves driving upstream, along the Virgin River, gaping up at the giant sandstone precipices.

Shortly, we hopped on the Angel's Landing trail and soon found a fresh beat in our step.  This is one of my favorite Zion hikes (despite the concrete) with titillating exposure and panoramic vistas.  Our lungs and sprit were much refreshed by days end.  Before leaving Zion we made our way up a couple other short byways.

Lake Powell.
Angels Landing trail.  Crazy huh?
Zion.  Real pretty.
Feeling real small at this point.

At the Zion Visitor center we became aware of an incoming storm front.  High winds and cold air were pummeling the Sierra and expected to arrive within the hour.  Driving around in our Sprinter is mostly pure joy.  It has power, adroit handling, and of course, great looks.  This however, doesn't help one bit when the wind picks up.  Its achilles heal really is its height.  As we left the Zion Canyon and turned West towards St. George, things got real interesting.  Crosswinds upwards of 50mph came out of nowhere, and soon we were in full battle mode, my hands gripped to the wheel and my nerves on edge.  We've never heard of Sprinters tipping over because of wind, but I'm sure it has surely happened.  Words can't express the image of horror that our minds conjured up when visualizing that possibility.  I'd probably be wearing my guitar for a hat at the least.  It wouldn't be pretty.  Fortunately, we pulled into St. George safe and sound.

Climbing in and around St. George (our original plan) we scrapped because of nasty weather.  The following day, after writing our last blog 'the beginning of the end', we set our course for Vegas.  With a few hours we had arrived and met our friend Moe Witschard at the Red Rock Resort and Casino.  We went to the Yard House where they have 130 beers on Tap.  Yep, 130.  Of course, we couldn't sample them all.  Personally, my favorite was the Stone Pale Ale.  It was great to once again see my man Moe.  He's a heck of a photographer and had recently escaped 90mph winds in Death Valley while attempting an insane venture to capture an elusive and migratory sand dune.  Hats off to you Moe!  Check out his sweet imagery here: http://www.moephotography.com/.

Sin City.  Land of the Buffet.
We stayed around Vegas for 6 days after saying goodbye to Moe.  Four of those we spent climbing at Red Rocks and two of those exploring manmade and natural wonders near Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

It was fun climbing in Red Rocks again after a 10 year hiatus.  Sure, the rock is a little sandy, bouldery, sharp...but, the scenery is breathtaking!  Unfortunately, it was a little too cold to explore the multi pitch climbing in the canyons proper.  We did have fun huddling in the warm alcoves of the Calico Hills.    Here's some more shots of this unique area.

Red Rocks and the Calico Hills.
Tiffany leading a sweet slab at the Panty Wall.  
And, that is why they call if Red Rocks.

Yours truly finishing up the Gallery
Just downriver from Hoover Van
Nevada Hot Spring.

Hoover Dam

A nice way to see Hoover Dam.
One the cooler side trips while in Las Vegas was our excursion down to Gold Strike Hot Springs.

After a couple days of crimping at Red Rocks, we were in need of some relaxation, and these Hot Springs were the ticket.  They required only a short drive down to Boulder City and an hour hike down a gorgeous desert wash.  Two or so miles down the canyon this wash goes from desolate to verdant as hot water gushes from holes in the canyon floor.  There are at least four awesome pools leading up to where the canyon meets the Colorado proper.

Having hiked in at sunset meant we had the whole place to ourselves.  From the Colorado we slowly worked our way back to the van by starlight, soaking, and taking in the night sky.

It was seriously awesome.
The next day we took a bike trail to visit the Hoover Dam.  It was big.  Very impressive.  If I was an engineer and a little more fond of concrete, it might have been better.  But, I was glad to have seen this gargantuan thing.

Sunrise in the Vansion.  Just another day in paradise.
Don't worry, she eventually came back after I nailed this Vansion in a landscape shot.

From Las Vegas we moved to Bishop, CA.  But, not without taking in Death Valley National Park.  Again, Winter is the perfect time to see this Mordor type landscape.  I could definitely imagine "Sauron" building a big fortress at 'Badwater'.  He would dig it.

Here are some good times photos from the Valley of Death.  Enjoy~

This is the perfect place to dip your Marg glass.

Tiffers totally airborne.
Desert yoga, the best.
No, this isn't in Arabia.
The last time I was in Badwater it was 125 degrees.  This time, 45.

And so, after surviving Death Valley we drove onto Bishop.  We've been here now for four days.  Most of that time we've been sport climbing down at the Owen's River Gorge.  This place is special to me; for it is where I cut my face-climbing teeth over ten years ago.  I did my first 13a here, and it is still good.

Other than that, we've been hanging with friends, soaking up the sun, and exploring some little frequented hot springs.  Here are some shots from Lil' Hot Creek the other morning.  It was a brisk 19 degrees when we got to the pool.  Things generally improved once inside the 105 degree water.

lil' hot creek
Coffee and Hot springs, perfect.

Well folks, that about wraps it up.  Hope you all enjoyed the pictures.  We certainly had a great time taking them!

Not sure what the future will hold for the Gilkisons'. But, it certainly will be an adventure.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The beginning of the end

Ron, Kristy and 'Sharkbait' Kutsch

Over fifteen months have flowed downstream since we set forth on our North American odyssey.  Aside from a little work here and there, we've mostly lived the dream: climbing, hiking, fishing, leisure making, and photographing our way across a vast and variegated landscape we call home.  With all that has transpired, words can't express our feelings of wonder and thankfulness to have lived this adventure.  Beyond the obvious exploratory opportunities, our travels have shaped & cemented an already vibrant friendship.  This has been a dream trip.  Now, with only three weeks remaining till we land back in the PNW, we are conscious of our dwindling time on the road.  Staying in the moment has become increasingly difficult.  Visions of school, work, and a future life seem to rise above the midwest prairie like an impending flood.  Notwithstanding our impulse to  obsess about tomorrow, we're  gonna 'carpe diem' our way back to normality, and if not suck out the marrow, at least harvest a little sunshine for the long wet winter ahead.

Two months have come and gone since we've blogged, so forgive me (mom & dad) if our recount is remiss in detail.  It would have mostly sounded something like, 'we climbed this, we climbed that etc' which would have put most of you safely to sleep, drooling across your keyboards.  Of course, I couldn't sleep at night knowing that.

100% Adrenaline
Let's see, at the beginning of October we had just finished climbing in Utah and had found our way over the Rockies to Colorado Springs to visit Ron, Kristy and baby Nikolas.  While there we took a tour of the Olympic training facility and Garden of the God's.  The latter of which was a much needed excuse to stretch our legs after the long drive from Maple.  Another highlight was a decadent & sumptuous night of Sushi!  This was hands down the best Sushi I've ever had.  CO Springs is also known for its diverse weather conditions.  And, it wasn't too astonishing to experience our first snowstorm one morning.  Later that same afternoon the sun came out and vanquished the chill, providing Tiff and I a great opportunity to explore one of the local parks set amidst a rocky ridge, with views up to Pike's Peak.  

From CO Springs, we drove North to Boulder to visit our friends Justen & Angele Sjong, and my friend Randall Levensaler.  While there we also got a taste of Boulder Canyon climbing.  Needless to say, we got terribly lost and stumbled upon a short bolted choss pile.  Ahh, it wasn't that bad; but the noise from the busy road below didn't have us too psyched.  The following day, desperate for a workout, we managed a nice afternoon up at the Flatirons.  The sandstone was surprisingly solid, albeit sharp and gritty!  I managed a second try ascent (just barely!) of Milkbone 13a that tackles an interesting tufa like feature.  It was burrrrly!  The scene up in the flat irons area was far more peaceful, and one can almost forget  that a bustling city is close at hand.  

Our first night in Boulder coincided with the first World Cup Lead Comp in over two decades to be held on American soil.  We were fortunate enough to acquire tickets to this fantastic event.  Though, I'm much more inclined towards 'real' rock climbing, it was nonetheless very inspirational.  The level of athleticism was mind boggling.  We attended the pre final and final event.  The latter of which was mobbed.  With the crowds, lights, music, it was hard not to feel the infectious enthusiasm.  

The route setting was tick-tacky for the women's routes and far more bouldery for the mens.  Since the walls were not that tall, I can understand that difficulty by 'pump' wasn't an option.  Therefore, the men were offered up big moves and dynos.  Of course, the crowd always loves a good show... but, unfortunately this doesn't always make a fair competition.  I saw a former world champ Ramon and crusher Sean McColl fall very low on a stretched out dyno.  It was obvious that all the taller climbers had a much, much, much easier time of this.  They took defeat with candor and sportsmanship; but, their disappointment was palpable.

Ramon took his revenge out later that week by onsighting The Crew 14c at Rifle.  Yes, he is 5'2".  Simply amazing!!!!!  

From Boulder we bee lined it to Bloomington, IN. There we had the pleasure of visiting the Smucker-Oats clan. We arrived early enough in the evening to enjoy a stroll through town, which was only tempered by a tempestuous rain storm. 

Kate and Dustin were magnificent hosts and our stop there was a much needed reprieve.  To top off our visit, Kate whipped up some stuffed peppers for dinner.  Words can't express our appreciation to be pampered, loved on, and fed a home cooked meal.  Thank you friends!

Busty and Pete Chasse

From Bloomington we swung south to Lousiville and then Eastward towards Slade, Ky.  By days end we had arrived at the Red River Gorge nestled in the foothills of Eastern Kentucky.  Last year weather had curtailed our RRG experience.  So, this year we elected to arrive much earlier and stay five weeks.  

October in the Red can be quite BUSY.  We experienced this first hand on a bustling Saturday at the fabled Military Wall. Families, hammocks, kids, dogs and the ensuing fracas made for a lively first day after our long drive.  Granted, it wasn't probably a good idea to attempt climbing here on a weekend in the middle of prime season.  Oh well, we did it anyway; and survived, just barely.  

Pete helping me replace the Fuel Filter
The following 5.5 weeks were really just a blur.  Climbing, rest days, bad weather, good weather, bad weather, better weather seemed to cycle through, and give a repetitious undertone to our stay.  On average, it rained 3 days a week.  For whatever reason, storms seemed to roll in on Wednesday like magic.  Consequently, there were many weekends that we were forced to climb and endure the masses, which up until Nov plagued the Red.  Conditions at the beginning of Nov ranged from Sleet to 79 degrees and 80% humidity.  However, there were definite golden days mixed in.  

During the first couple weeks we mostly bounced around to walls unknown to us.  They included: Military, Left Flank, Phantasia, Funk Rock City, Torrent, and Midnight surf.  It took a little while to get back in the groove.  But, the fitness eventually came.  Two weeks into our stay however, Tiff suffered an aggravation of her left knee's Plica.  This took her mostly out of the game for two weeks.  To climbers on a climbing trip, this is like FOREVER.  With patience and gumption she waited it out.  I'm proud to report that during our last week Tiff led her first 5.11a called 'whip-stocking' at Drive-by.  She redpointed it first try after sussing the moves and clips on TR a couple times.  For a lady who only recently lead her first 5.8, this is a remarkable accomplishment.  It has been quite satisfying to see her grow and push her climbing.  Though she still claims to be mainly a "skiier", I think I can see a subtle shift and increasing fondness for this vertiginous activity we call rock climbing.  Kudos to you Tiffany.

God's Own Stone

Coming to the Red this season I had some lofty goals.  Some of them I met, and others eluded me to the very end.  After finishing off Omaha Beach 13d/14a in a handful of tries I moved onto God's Own Stone.  According to many, this climb is considered quite soft.  Some have suggested the grade of 13c.  So, I thought, this will be easy.  It seemed only logical that I would send quickly...and move onto to a couple other 14a's I had my eyes set on.  Situated at the Gold Coast, GOS ascends a perfect line of orange rock between water streaks.  Upon my first go I was able to do the moves, just barely.  On my second go it felt much, much easier, but still hard.  The real difficulty lies in roughly 10 feet of climbing.  The holds are small.  For me, the difference between easy 13c and hard 14a was quite apparent.  It was a matter of feet.  Taller climbers were able to skip a couple miserable intermediates and roughly 5 moves that I found obligatory.  Most importantly, the better footholds were just out of reach for me.  After spending 6 days and 22 tries on this beast I can say this route is hard.  I'd given 3X the amount of effort for the other 6 14's I had done this past year.  But still, I came up empty.  I could say it was the weather, 'not my style', but really, I just think it was hard.  I don't regret that I spent 1/3rd of my Red trip trying this route.  But, I can't but wonder if I should have moved on and tried other climbs.  Fortunately, I did get on some other climbs, some old and some new.   I was psyched to onsight some great 12's and 13's.  And, I was pleased to fall off of a bunch of others.

Bearfoot playing at Natasha's in Lexington.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Destillery

Finishing an awesome Bourbon tour.
Sunrise over Muir Valley.

No, this ain't no mine.  


Sending Kaleidoscope 13c.

On the way to Drive By and 11a domination.

A hickup on the way to 11a domination.

The Euro Mullet via swiss army scissors. 

Tiffers sending Whip-stocking 11a.

The color of wet rock and chalk on Paradise Lost.

Our RRG trip came to an abrupt end just before Thanksgiving.  A strange weather phenomena descended on Eastern Kentucky during our last designated rest day.  It left the rock soaked in a ubiquitous sweat.  Rain hadn't defeated us, it was simply 100% humidity and a abominable temperature differential.  

Notwithstanding our dismay at the horrible conditions, we wandered over to the only rock that seemed climbable.  The place is called the Purgatory and houses a few awesome looking 13b's and one 14c.  I'd planned my whole red trip for a day of onsighting effort here.  I wasn't to be dissuaded.  Hmmmm, I'm sure you can see where this is going.  Yes, human will can only do so much.  With no warmup route I headed up Paradise Lost 13b.  After battling my way through very damp holds I couldn't even let go to clip.  The holds were exfoliating a unique mixture of chalk, sweat, and grit.  I nervously winged off, lowered, and came to my senses.  I knew it was over.  We said our goodbyes to friends and made one last drive to the Gold Coast parking area.  Despite my dwindling optimism, I was still hopeful to giving a final few goes at GOS.  I'd never given so much to a route while on the road.  Through mud and sodden leaves we hiked up to the Gold Coast.  Though GOS doesn't receive any direct rain run-off, it was soaked; and I mean every hold.  With some sadness I stick-clipped my way up to the anchor and stripped my draws.  

GOS was a great experience and a reminder that I have to be willing to fail in order to grow.  Grades are sometimes meaningless drivel which lead us to compare our own performance to others.  Through this epic battle I was reminded that climbing is so personal and different for each of us.  If collectively we all had the same weight, height, finger strength etc comparison might be appropriate, but its not.  I'm glad I came, I'm glad I tried.  Perhaps I'll come back to finish this climb someday, but if not, I've still come away enriched.

Thanksgiving with the family.
On Nov 21st we pulled the plug on Kentucky.  It had been a great trip, but all things must come to an end.  That night we plowed 4.5 hours to Nashville and surprised my sister while she was reading on the couch with my newphew Beau.  For the next four days we feasted, toiled, relaxed and relished in family hospitality.  Our beloved parents on my side had recently moved to Nashville.  It was nice to see their new pad, help them unpack some boxes, and hear about their own roadtrip to Nashville from Seattle.  We'll miss you Mom, Dad, Beau, Loni and Sammy.  

Though I still have some days left to get this current, I just can't sit here any longer.  We're in St. George Utah and its high time to stretch the legs.  Until next time...