Friday, April 29, 2016
After three glorious days of bouldering in Bishop, we packed up and headed north to Lake Tahoe. We learned that Death Valley wasn't our last day of serious hills for Sylvia, though none were as dramatic. I guess it's only fair since we were doing so much climbing ourselves that she should do her share. We climbed out of the Owens River Valley, past Mono Lake and up and up and up. And then as you'd expect we went down and down and down. After so many hours of remote roads I was in serious need of a bathroom stop which landed us at this sweet little cafe where we split the most delicious peach/blueberry pie ever and the boys slurped down chocolate shakes. Not only was the food delicious, the people there were interesting to talk to. Jason complimented some guy on his Corvette we were parked next to and then a dirtbag-looking guy sitting next to Corvette-guy complimented us on Sylvia. Corvette-guy looked a little annoyed.
After climbing back into Sylvia for our final descent down into Lake Tahoe, poor Jason knocked out a new dental filling....drinking water. We arrived in Tahoe and he commenced trying to find a dentist who would take him that evening. As luck would have it, he found one and got all fixed up. We had decided to stay in a hotel for the night so we drove from the dentist to a nice hotel where I was welcomed with glasses of champagne at check-in. I thought this was hilarious given the vehicle we had just arrived in so I asked if I could take the glasses outside with me. Isaac snapped photos of Jason (with half of his face paralyzed from novocaine) and I toasting in front of the camper van.
The next morning we drove narrow, winding road to the famous Emerald Bay. We hiked down to Vikingsholm, a huge early-1900's mansion built in the style of Norwegian castles, on the waters edge. On the beach, Isaac befriended the nicest goose ever and on the hike back up we watched a coyote just hanging out, totally unfazed by people. After lunch up on the rocks overlooking Emerald Bay we hit the road. Our goal for the day was Petaluma where we had plans to visit one of Jason's old high school friends and his family.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016
We fell in love with bouldering twenty-one years ago at Hueco Tanks, TX. We love the freedom of bouldering, of heading out with just our climbing shoes and a chalk bag. No roping up, no clipping bolts, no having to belay. Just you and the rock. We spent two months bouldering and living in the back our 1985 Subaru in Hueco during its heyday. At the time it was an international bouldering destination, arguably the best in the world. Since then access has been severely limited as the state tries to protect the cultural heritage of the park. Locals have vandalized the rock art and now access is restricted for all. Our last visit there was a bit depressing given the limitations.
With the demise of Heuco Tanks, Bishop, CA has become a bouldering hot spot. Nestled below the towering Sierra Nevada mountain range, it's a gorgeous setting to bask in the sun and boulder your heart out with fellow climbers from around the world. We were all totally blissed out in bouldering heaven.
Our first day we spent in the Happy Boulders. After warming up on some V0's we worked a V3 with an Indian guy from San Diego. Next we climbed Monkey Hang Roof, another V3, with some girls from Rhode Island. All the while I was checking out this kinda high traverse (Weekender, V3) another group was working on. It looked super fun but with our thin bouldering pad (the first bouldering pad to hit the market...it actually should be in a museum...you should hear all the young folks when they see it...some have called it a yoga mat or a lightly padded carpet), I was unwilling to give it a try. When the folks working Weekender offered to let us try it while their ginormous pads were under it, we jumped at the chance. With beta from the girl working it, I was able to climb it on the first try. Yay! It feels so good to be able to hop onto V3's and finish them. And it's so fun to watch my son and hubby follow. One of the climbers we were hanging out with here was a local. After seeing our climbing pad, he felt sorry for us and offered to let us borrow his pad during our stay. Wow! What a great climbing community here. Everyone we met was really encouraging, fun and helpful.
The next day we headed to the oh-so picturesque Buttermilk Boulders, a group of boulders perched beneath the mountains with fields of wildflowers stretching into the distance. In the guidebook it said the Happy Boulders would trash your muscles, but the Buttermilks would trash your fingers. Perfect. Our fingers were already tender from the day before. We bouldered with a group of guys who varied from a Chinese Australian to an Indian Spaniard. They were super funny and full of good advice. For example, when we were working on Iron Man, a V4, with them, one of them says that you should start by doing it without any feet and then when you do it with feet it will be really easy. One of them had actually done it that way and said it really wasn't as easy as it sounds (not that it sounded easy to any of us). The guide was right and it didn't take long before I couldn't even touch the rock any more much less grab on to a hold. Jason's hands hurt so much that it hurt to pet the chihuahua. We went back to the van for lunch and I did a bit of yoga because who can resist doing yoga in such a beautiful spot? After the Buttermilks we went to a nearby hot springs and campground. We soaked our sore bodies in the warm water for a while and then retired to our shady, grassy campsite where the boys caught up on math and Jason on work while I cooked dinner.
The next day we went back to Happy Boulders and climbed as long as our bodies would let us. We worked on the longer V4 version of Weekender. Jason got it his first try and much to my dismay I had to do it four times before I finally sent it. Each time I fell off two moves from the end. It's a long Boulder problem so it was painful to have to do it four times but I'm happy to have gotten it. After that I was pretty much toast and my hands hurt too much to touch anything. Soon Jason and Isaac were in the same boat as me. With thrashed hands and bodies we packed up to go. Back in town we met our new climbing friend and returned his pad before sitting down at a local Mexican restaurant to wolf down some serious calories.
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Friday, April 22, 2016
We got an insider tip that there is spectacularly gorgeous boondocking to be had in the Alabama Hills just outside of Lone Pine. We drove out of town and into the endless boulders perfectly perched beneath Mount Whitney (the tallest mountain in the lower 48) and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We found the most picturesque campsite of our entire trip and settled in. Though we were protected by boulders everywhere we were still pummeled by the unrelenting wind that had plagued us through Death Valley. These boulders have been the backdrop for hundreds of films throughout the years including a few of our favorite cheesy Star Trek episodes. It was so fun to imagine Captain Kirk here clumsily hand-fighting with aliens. We kept wandering through the rocks saying things like, "I don't understand, that blow would have killed any mortal man". The wind, however, was kind of a major pain in the butt so we didn't spend as much time exploring as we would have liked.
The following morning we headed into town to check out the Movie Museum. I did not recognize most of the movies but I'm sure the museum would be super cool for anyone who grew up on old Westerns.
Our next stop was Manzanar National Historical Site. Manzanar was the first of ten concentration camps our country set up for 110,000 Japanese Americans during WWII. 10,000 of our own citizens, at this camp alone, were forced out of the their homes, businesses and lives and imprisoned here based solely on their race. We took everything from them, their homes, their businesses, all of their possessions. Absolutely horrifying. How could our country commit these crimes against her own citizens? Imprisoning families....men, women and children? After visiting this site, I feel like every American should have to visit one of these camps and learn what we did. Especially, when we have people like Trump spewing hatred towards foreigners that some Americans are gobbling up. Absolutely disgraceful. It goes against everything that this country stands for and our forefathers' vision. Never again.
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Thursday, April 21, 2016
It turns out that we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to drive Sylvia across Death Valley. What we discovered was that Death Valley + Sylvia = Pure Terror. We can't decide if the smoking brakes, boiling break fluid or the overheating engine was most exciting. I have to give ourselves a little credit because we were at least smart enough to not drive when it was 100+ degrees. Though the day we chose was forecast to be in the 80's, it was still not the perfect day to cross. The winds were howling anywhere between 30-50 mph. Being shaped like a tall brick on wheels, Sylvia doesn't exactly handle high winds with grace. It's a constant battle to keep her on the road. It took us roughly two hours to get to Death Valley from Vegas. Once within the park, the winds were so high we got out of the van to sight see exactly, once. No one was interested in stepping out of the van to get pummeled by a sandblasting storm of sandy sand. We did stop at the visitor center and worked our way through the informative exhibit but then we just high-tailed it out of there. Even though we weren't really willing to get out of the van, the scenery was amazing and other-worldly. The blowing and drifting sand only made the landscape more dramatic and desolate. I can see why they chose to film parts of Star Wars there.
Driving into the park we dropped 5000 feet to -100 feet in elevation. The part we didn't really think about or realize is that we had two ginormous mountain range between us and our destination on the other side of Death Valley. We knew we were in trouble when we started to climb out and there was a sign on the side of the road warning normal vehicles, that have AC, to turn off their AC over the next 20 miles to avoid overheating the engine. We patted ourselves on the back for not having AC so we didn't even have to worry about turning it off and for being smart enough to not do this on a truly hot day. I was behind the wheel at this point and we chugged along in third gear for a while watching as the temperature gauge slowly rose until we were dangerously hot and then had to pull over to let the engine cool down. We had the mixed blessing on this climb to finally have a tailwind. (Yay! We don't have to beat into the wind. Sad. The wind is with us so it is not hitting our radiator and cooling the engine down.) After the engine had come down to an acceptable temperature Jason hopped behind the wheel and away we climbed, this time in second gear. Gulp. At long last we reached the top of the first set of mountains at 5,000 ft., to be greeted by a sign warning us of the 9% grade that awaited us on the other side. 9%?!? We said a little prayer and ventured on in third gear so the engine could slow us down. Jason intermittently hit the brakes to keep our speed in check. It didn't take long for our brakes to start smoking. Anxious to cool down the brakes, a white-knuckled Jason pulled over again. He put all his weight into braking us and we just barely rolled to a stop as our brake fluid boiled. Good God, what had we gotten ourselves into? Afraid of warping the glowing-hot brakes, Jason turned off the engine and kept Sylvia in gear opting not to use the brakes to hold us in place. We were at such a steep angle that the engine couldn't hold us and kept turning over. Slowly, in a slow motion panic, we inched forward in our pull out perched on the edge of the hill, as the engine turned over time and again. Finally we were forced to move on. Downward we coasted hoping to reach the bottom in one piece. We finally leveled out in a valley at around 1,000 feet where we were greeted by a giant dust devil.
In the distance loomed the next set of mountains. Oh man! Is Sylvia going to make it? The grade up the next pass was a bit more manageable and we topped out again at 5,000 feet. The road was so narrow, windy and steep and the wind so intense that Jason's nerves were shot by the time we got to the top. Luckily the drop down into the Owens River Valley was much less steep and we survived. Poor, poor Sylvia. That's a lot of vertical, up and down, for an old VW. I can't tell you how thankful we are that we have put so much work into making her run so well. If we had the old engine we would probably be stuck at the bottom of the valley right now. All that would have been found of us would be Sylvia's dusty carcass and four sets of white bones along side one tiny set of Pika bones. Without the brake work, we would have careened off the first pass into space. But I digress, and mustn't let my morbid imagination run wild. Seven long hours later, after covering only 250 miles, we arrived safely in the old Wild West of the Alabama Hills.
Though Sylvia struggled to make it out of Death Valley, I can't even imagine what it was like for the pioneers. As we crawled along fretting about our engine and brakes, I tried to wrap my mind around the gargantuan struggle it would have been in horse and wagon. Man, those people were tough.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016
Our next stop was Red Rocks just outside of Las Vegas, a city which is affectionately named "The Armpit of the World" by Aaron. Red Rocks is where Jason and I met and spent our first days together. We've been together ever since. You know what they say....the couple that climbs together, stays together. And now it applies to our whole family. It's so surreal and gratifying to be back in Red Rocks with our kids 22 years after we met. A dream come true really.
Anyway, we had just one day to spend here before temperatures in Death Valley (our next planned stop) were going to soar into the 100's. Being AC free, driving at those temps is not an option in the camper van. We didn't waste any time. In the morning we headed straight to Sweet Pain Wall. I had my eyes set on another 5.12a climb that gave the wall it's name, Sweet Pain. We warmed up on a couple of 5.11's alongside Magic Earl and his girlfriend Sarah who happened to be a fellow Montanan. Jason dubbed him Magic Earl after he taught a new amazing way to tie a bowline that blew our minds. He also had some pretty sweet dad jokes. My neck is all tweaked and a rib is out so I was waffling about hopping onto Sweet Pain but finally worked up my courage and roped up. I've climbed this climb a couple of times on top rope but never on lead. I thought for sure I would have to back down and have Magic Earl finish it for me. To my surprise, I nailed the crux with a crazy cross-through (thanks yoga) and clipped my next bolt. I made a couple moves above the bolt and at this point I was really tired and hit a handhold wrong. I peeled and dropped fifteen feet+. Normally this would have totally freaked me out but somehow it didn't even phase me. I was just stoked that I had worked through the crux without any problems. Happily I finished the climb without any additional whippers. Both Jason and Isaac followed. I decided to climb it again on top rope, thinking I would breeze it because I had gotten it so easily on lead. Not so. I totally flailed and was amazed that I had made it up the first time. Jason climbed it a second time and got it easily without any falls.
In the afternoon we hiked to Calico Tanks. This was our compromise with Aaron. He has been wanting to hike Turtlehead for years and we thought we would do it this trip but when we found out the details we decided it was too much for our tired and recovering-from-sickness bodies. A park ranger told us that Calico Tanks has essentially the same view without any death-defying scrambling so we did that instead. In grand Aaron tradition, he found a way to go even higher when we got to the traditional top so we followed him higher and higher until we were perched on top of vanilla-colored mounds at the very tippy top surrounded by beautiful views. Thanks for the adventure Aaron!
We finished the day at Whole Foods followed by dinner at a very hip Japanese fondue (shabu shabu) place. We were sat at a high bar in front of individual burners where we would be cooking our own dinners between two groups of people. After a few minutes, I noticed that the guy sitting next to me had moved down a seat and when the couple next to him left, he jumped at the chance to move all the way to the end of the bar. After some consideration, I realized that while we think we look like super-rad climbers, to the finely coifed Vegas patrons we probably just looked like crazy dirtbags. Which I guess is what we are. We were on day five without a shower. After climbing. And hiking. In the hot, desert sun. Everyday. I glanced around at the other patrons. All were well dressed in clean clothing and primped. No one else smelled offensive or had dirt stains and chalk marks on their clothing. I guessed that they even had showers that very same day. I felt like maybe we didn't quite fit in, but that's ok. Fitting in while in Vegas is overrated.
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