"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for April, 2014

Joshua Tree

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Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.

-Jack Kerouac

 

After three weeks at Maine for the holidays and a week in L.A. to fix my car, I was ready to get back on the road again.  It had been a year without climbing trad so I decided it was time to head to Joshua tree and see how my gains in sport climbing would translate to gear.

I knew I had a couple friends already there, but I was surprised to find even more friends than I had expected.  Those I didn’t already know quickly became friends as well as we packed into vans to avoid the frigid wind.  Temperatures hovered around 20 during the day and dipped into the single digits at night with winds strong enough to sent tents flying, even with gear inside.  This made the climbing difficult for the first week.

Never having been to J-tree before, I quickly made a list of nearly 50 routes to try.  Compiled of classics, recommendations, and one’s added because I thought they might “build character” (aka fist crack or off-width) the list was more than I could possibly finish, but it gave me some direction.  Once the weather warmed up and it was possible to climb without losing feeling in my fingers, I got cracking trying as many routes as possible.

I spent some time trying a range of routes, but mostly just had a blast playing with widgets again.  Topping my list of favorites were some of my proudest sends even if some were over two number grades lower than sport climbs I’ve done.  For routes like Coarse and Buggy (5.11b) the grade doesn’t matter; it’s hard, it’s awesome, the end.  Rubicon (5.10c), Hot Rocks (5.11c), and Scary Poodles (5.11b) were a few of my other favorites.  Hot Rocks was an especially proud one for me because it became my hardest trad send and it was on difficult placements and had a huge run-out at the top.

Joshua Tree is a complicated place.  Blistering sun, frigid nights, and howling winds all frequent the small piles of kitty litter choss that people like to call Joshua tree rocks.  There’s a reason the classic boulder problem ‘Stem Gem’ has three grooves worn away were you have to smear the right foot to start.  But some of the rock is pretty good.  And the community that finds shelter in J-tree for the winter is amazing.  More than the routes, I’ll remember the mornings at Climbers Coffee, rest day Bocce, and Chasm of Doom exploits in the dark.

February came and temperatures started warming sending climbers scattering in different directions.  Soon I found that my list was only half ticked and it was time to move on.  J-tree is certainly an interesting destination, climbing on kitty litter granite, but is definitely a fun hang.  I don’t know when it will be, but I’m sure I’ll make it back to continue working on the ever-expanding list of routes to do.

 


Kalyming in Climbnos

Listen to the sound of the world
Don’t watch it turn

—The Killers

 

In a sudden flurry of motion I went from crashing on a couch in L.A. whining about my injured finger to sipping wine on a balcony in Greece.  It’s hard to be too disappointed in life while hanging out on the Mediterranean.  I spent my first week hanging out, trying to keep myself from going climbing before my finger had a chance to heal.  Soon I gave up and decided it was time to climb.

For my first day of climbing I headed to Telendos with Wil, Caio, and Mariella to do some easy multipitching.  Wil and I cruised up our climb, linking the first “7” pitches of climbing into one long simulclimb using only 14 draws.  Before you go thinking how badass I am, let me mention that this was ridiculous to call it 7 pitches and it was mostly 5th class climbing.  We topped out in under 2.5 hours, but Caio and Mariella had already beat us and headed down.  That was about the time we realized we didn’t know where the decent trail was.  It’s a small island, can’t be too hard right?  Wrong.  Several wrong turns and attempts to forge our own trail later, we finally made it back to the tiny village of Telendos, almost five hours later.  What a great start.

The next couple weeks were spent climbing progressively harder on routes I got people to assure me had no crimps or pockets.  Before I realized it I was back to being able to try hard and loving the climbing Kalymnos offered.  Days were filled with cragging, nights were filled with restaurants full of new friends.  It was an interesting phenomenon to arrive as the normal season was winding down.  It meant that I met most people at the biweekly going away parties and didn’t know if I would see many of them again.  Regardless I made tons of great friends from all around the world.

Not knowing much about specific routes beforehand allowed me to sample from many different areas and find some great climbs I might not have found otherwise.  Of course, nothing should stop the 5.12 climber from trying the uber-mega-ultra-classic Aegialis (7c) so eventually I found my way to the most stunning line on the island.  Pumpy climbing has never been my forte so 30m of steep tufas was a daunting challenge.  My first day on it I got whooped.  It seemed like days before I made it to the top on my first try, dogging the whole way.  I quickly began to piece it together though and my inability to make it to the top twice in a day turned into several good send attempts each day.

I knew I was getting closer when I made it through the crux.  Gassed from the last 80ft of pulling I tried to gun in through the top easier moves, skipping bolts hoping to make it to the rest near the top.  Finally I wrapped fingers around a tufa, but before I could make it further my fingers slipped open as I was finally unable to fight the pump.  I fell 40ft through the air, but all I thought of was how close I was to making it.

“Why didn’t you use the knee-bar?” another climber asked.  He proceeded to explain and then demonstrate the magic knee-bar that you can get after the crux.  I face palmed.  The next day, I implemented the most amazing knee-bar known to man.  Hanging from one leg, upside down, in one of the most iconic climbing destinations in the world, this is what life is all about.  I recovered, clipped the chains, and let out a victory woop.

I hate using this word, but life in Kalymnos became normal.  Not in a bad way of the normal 9-5 working life, but it gained a regular rhythm.  Two months in one place will do that.  I woke, I climbed, I socialized, I slept.  People came and I made friends, people left and I made new friends.  Above all, I climbed.

I tried heaps of routes; sent some and got shut down by others.  After the high of Aegialis, it took a really great route to get me well psyched on another route that I might have to project.  Eventually I found Hyma sto Kyma (7c+) at Odyssey.  The relatively unheard-of route captured my attention with great moves on tufas down low followed by an increasingly difficult second half, all the way up to the anchor.

It took me several attempts to figure out the last section which goes straight sideways from some chossely crimps to a sloper facing the wrong direction to be much use.  As I began having burns that seemed closer to sending I realized that even clipping my extended draw on the last bolt burned too much energy and began skipping it.  That meant that my constant whips through the crux were 20+ feet every time.  I even considered skipping the second to last bolt, but thought better of it when I looked at the fall potential onto a slabby ledge.

I became pressed for time with only a matter of days before I had to leave Kalymnos.  It came down to the wire.  I had one day to have real send attempts followed by one day that was supposed to rain heavily before I left.  I rallied Keith to belay me again, but got to the crag only to see water dripping from many holds.  Still not deterred by the sopping wet holds, I flailed on my first attempt then meticulously patted holds dry with a hand towel.  It came down to only three important holds being wet and each was uncut.  That’s still pretty do-able right?

My next attempt was great; I made it the last couple moves before falling on the last hard move, trying to stick a big rounded pinch.  My attempt after was nearly the same.  And then again on my third try.  It began to rain.  I sat at the bottom of my climb wondering how I would climb a route that already had wet holds while it was raining.  I hoped that it would stop.  It continued to drizzle.  Was there any point even trying it again?  Then I thought of a better question: was there any point not trying?  That one I knew the answer to.

I made it through the bottom in the sprinkling rain.  Was it slowing down?  I relaxed at the rest in the middle trying to make sure I was fresh for the top.  I started climbing again and by then I didn’t even realize it had stopped raining.  I worked through ever worsening holds that had become familiar ground.  With power only found in desperation I popped to the rounded ball and pinched as hard as I could.  To my astonishment my fingers didn’t rip off the hold.  I pulled on two more sopping wet holds, clipped the anchor, and let out a victory cry.  All that was left to do was eat baklava and pack my bags.