Road Trip – Part 2

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Magical desert light casting its eye on the Watchman in Zion National Park

Part 2 of road trip 2016 began in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. This is one of my favorite places in the whole wide world and it is only a 5 hour drive from Salt Lake City. The daunting canyon walls and desert landscape are so inspiring to me. I always feel so small and humbled in this park and that is certainly a special feeling to harness.

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Jonathon following pitch 2 on Smashmouth

Unfortunately prior to leaving Salt Lake City, I came down with a nasty cold. It plagued me for the majority of the month and kept my energy levels rather low when all I wanted to do was get after it and climb. But I didn’t let it hold me back entirely and we still managed to climb some pretty cool rocks!

First up was the classic 4 pitch climbed called Smashmouth on the Confluence Buttress. I have heard about this one for years and it certainly held up to the hype with four short but amazing pitches. I even was able to onsight the final crux pitch!

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Following pitch 3 on Smashmouth
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Jonathon following the 4th pitch on Smashmouth

The big goal for this portion of the trip was to climb the underground classic Tricks of the Trade on the Issac. It is a super long and adventurous route utilizing all sorts of desert rock climbing shenanigans – wide climbing, sandy climbing, chossy climbing, run out climbing, and even some aid climbing. We opted to try to the route over two days and decided to haul a small bivy kit.

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Jonathon starting up the first pitch

The first pitch (a strenuous 5.10 Offwidth) started out a little rough when Jonathon got 2 cams stuck while leading. I was able to get one of them back but it definitely took up a large chunk of time and energy. Things went relatively smooth for the rest of the day and the climbing was continually engaging even on the easier 5.7 pitches.

The third pitch “Mines of Moria” was super unique and felt a bit like vertical spelunking. I was literally tunneling through the middle of The Issac and almost wanted a headlamp to better see the correct way. At the anchor, we pulled our haul line up through the tunnel and dropped it down the other side so that hauling was more efficient. Jonathon lead the next sandy pitch. I could not look up while he was leading since there was so much sand coming down into my eyes.

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Starting up the Mines of Moria pitch

Next up came the 5.7 squeeze chimney aka the Santa Claus Chimney. I took my helmet off for this lead and ended up with a little scrape on my nose from turning my head side-to-side while in the chimney because I didn’t know what way to look.

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Leading the Santa Claus chimney pitch

The final hard pitch for the day was the 60 meter Calvinator pitch – a sustained 5.10 pitch that climbs hand cracks and wide cracks in the back of the chimney, with a super fun roof mid-way through utilizing stemming, hand jams and laybacks. I never was able to find the bolted anchor at the end of the pitch and so I belayed back in the chimney, which resulted in some terrible hauling. Turns out the anchors were way off to the climbers left and would have required some unprotected face climbing with heinous rope drag to get there. It seemed like they were set up for rappelling more than ascending. In hindsight, I would have broken the pitch into two to help haul more efficiently.

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Barely half way up the infamous Calvinator pitch

Jonathon led us up the supposed 4th class terrain although it felt much harder than 4th class and we were certainly happy to keep the rope on. As it started to get dark, we found our bivy spot below pitch 10. It was a small bivy and there were two little sleeping spots located in the sand and facing head to toe.

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Sunrise from the bivy ledge

The next morning we woke up very sore and very tired. Jonathon was starting to get his version of the plague and I was still hacking like a smoker. But I figured we would at least pretend we felt better and I started racking up for the day. After a pitch and half, we were thoroughly shut down. I’m not much of an offwidth climber and the 5.10 offwidth on the 11th pitch was beyond my comfort level both physically and mentally. I just didn’t have the strength pull through or trust in small sandy gear placements that were just out of reach to gun it to the anchor. Plus there is a large ledge right below this crux section.

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All smiles at the bivy ledge even knowing that the off width battles were over…for now

We both knew it was time to go down and that still was going to require some serious energy. Fortunately we got through the 10 plus rappels with no major epics, e.g. no stuck ropes. Once on the ground, I took a look at my bruised body. I had scrapes all over my hands, arms and legs and had some serious bruising around my harness line. This route really took it out of me and we didn’t even finish it. It was the most sore I have been in a long time. I have been defeated a number of times in Zion but I still continue to be inspired and ever-so humbled by this special place.

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Jonathon on rappel
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Tired, sore and defeated

We began our drive to Joshua Tree that day and spent election night at the Whole Foods in Las Vegas horrified by the results being displayed on the TV. I woke up the next day with a sore body and sore heart, scared for my country’s future but knowing that love and kindness can always get me through these tough times.

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In Joshua Tree, Jonathon had to work so I had some time to myself. Over the weekend, my friend Ericka Hegeman drove down from Bishop and we climbed the moderate classics over the next several days. I spent a lot of time in Joshua Tree in my early 20s when rock climbing and the vagabond lifestyle were still so new to me. I have many fond memories here in the early 2000s – feeling completely free with limited commitments and concerns. Coming back to J-Tree as legitimate adult, I was still able to feel that same sense of freedom that dominated my previous decade. And how can you not harness that sense of freedom – there is no cell service, the desert is vast and stark, and the night sky is dominated by starry skies. During the day, we wandered around the desert escaping the Yuccas and climbing coarse cracks and delicate faces. Sunsets revealed magical colors and Joshua Trees casting shadows across the playground of rocks. When darkness fell, we would cook up a family style dinner and share stories about the day. It was a lovely time.

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Ericka coming up the uber-classic Illusion Dweller
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Jonathon starting up Sphincter Quits
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Team Go (aka Dawn and Pat) climbing on the West side of the Sports Challenge Rock

In mid-November, I met up with my friend Chris Wright in Yosemite. We had ambitious goals but chilly temperatures and lingering respiratory infections limited us a bit. The highlight of the trip was climbing Royal Arches to Crest Jewel on North Dome. I had done Royal Arches about 10 years ago and I only remembered that it was fun. And it still was fun! Crest Jewel was as slabby as it gets. I led the first couple pitches and after the first 10a lead, I felt pretty fried. While the bolts weren’t especially far apart on that pitch, it was just a bit unnerving to be smearing on literally nothing. Fortunately, Chris was fired up and he led the majority of the route to the top. We topped out during the most amazing evening light. The sky was glowing and we were glowing knowing that we were witnessing one of natures many delights. With short days, we didn’t linger too long and managed to complete the hike off North dome before dark and completed the rappels down Royal Arches in the dark. It was a fabulous day.

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Leading up the 2nd pitch of Crest Jewel. It looks low angle, but sure doesn’t feel low angle when you are on it! Photo: Chris Wright
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Chris following the 2nd pitch of Crest Jewel.
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Chris leading up the 3rd pitch of Crest Jewel.
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Finishing up one of the last pitches of Crest Jewel. Photo: Chris Wright
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Half Dome in the magic light. Photo: Chris Wright
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That magic light.
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All smiles on top of North Dome!

The following day, I woke up very sore. I think it was mostly from getting worked on an offwidth the first day of the trip. Nonetheless, we still ended up climbing a newer 5 pitch climb on the Pat and Jack Pinnacle called the Super Slacker Highway. The trip ended with a couple days in San Francisco including a cragging day above the vineyards. The highlight of that day was of course the amazing cheese and olives we picked up at an upscale grocery store on the way to the crag!

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Chris following the off width pitch on New Dimensions
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Leading up the 3rd pitch on Super Slacker. Photo: Chris Wright
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Chris on the final pitch of Super Slacker
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Obligatory rope toss shot above the San Fransisco Vineyards

I came back to Joshua Tree with a very sore elbow. I felt like I traded my cold for some elbow tendinitis. I’m still not sure which is worse. Regardless, resting it really wasn’t much of an option since I still had over a week left in our trip. Jonathon and I climbed some of the harder classics – some old favorites and others are now new favorites. Highlights included climbing Wangerbanger with 1 hang and on-sighting Heart of Darkness.

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Gunning for the chains on Heart of Darkness
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Happy.

For the final days of our trip, we drove north to Bishop, California to check out the scene and hang out with my old friend Kate Rutherford. It was quite cold while we were visiting but I loved our short visit to this area. The town is small and quaint but not overly touristy, the landscape is inspiring and the climbing is close. We spent a couple days climbing at Owen’s River gorge and one day bouldering at the Buttermilks. I had so much fun bouldering, I’m contemplating getting a crash pad! I can’t wait to come back and visit!

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Bouldering!
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Kate showing us how its done

Although plagued with illness and injury for most of the month, it was a fantastic road trip through Utah and California. We climbed some fantastic routes and I hung out with some great friends. Plus van life is oh so plush and has taken camping to the next level!  Life is a beautiful thing.

I am so lucky to be able to have this time and have the means to explore our amazing landscape.  Since the political climate has shifted, it is that much more important to me to take advantage of our federally protected public lands.  And to not only take advantage of them but to also protect and advocate for them.  One of the things I love most about America is our big, wide open spaces and I am so grateful that previous generations have worked hard to protect our beautiful lands. I will also work hard to ensure that future generations can experience our beautiful landscape.

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California was this good!
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