Thursday, September 25, 2008


I have no idea why but the late 70s/early 80s cartoon Starblazers (an English version of the Japanese anime Yamato sanitized for tender young US viewers) popped into my head last night at the video store. Yes, I've now dated myself. It took me until today to remember the hero Derek's cheesy last name, Wildstar. Sadly, I can still remember the theme song and the race of blue skinned villains, the Gamilons. They always had the best uniforms.

shut down on the e arete

Note: This trip report also appears on summitpost.

My time in Bishop was rapidly coming to an end so I had to select carefully from my summer to do list. Jascha and I eventually decided on the E Arete of Bear Creek Spire. Unlike the more popular N Arete and NE Ridge routes (both of which I have done at least once), there is little information on the less traveled E Arete other than a vague description from Secor, a brief write-up in Fiddler and Moynier's guide, and an old trip re
port on I was able to get some beta from someone off of summitpost as well. The route is easy to find as it occupies the left-hand skyline of Bear Creek Spire, and is clearly visible for much of the approach. Based on the photos I had seen an escape appeared fairly straightforward, so I wasn't overly concerned. I had read that the climb was 22 pitches in length, should take anywhere from 7-11 hours, and to expect raps for the notches. I knew that it was likely we could solo a lot (if not all) of it, so I estimated we would be on the low end. We packed a 60m half rope, 2 Link cams, a #3 Camalot, 1/4 set of nuts, slings, and rap rings.

We got a not so alpine, but reasonable given our experience and typical performance, start from the Mosquito Flat trailhead. The temps have been
dropping in the high country, so my right hip was feeling a bit cranky. Nevertheless we made good time around the bottom of the NE Ridge, from which we got our first good view of our task at hand. We contoured to a set of obvious notches, which according to the guide marked the start of the climb. The approach took 2.5 hours.

We scoped out the various ways to surmount the notch and I selected a chimney, which at first glance looked within our abilities. As I scrambled up, however, I noticed how crumbly the holds were. I told Jascha to find another way up. It seemed unwise for me to downclimb, so I climbed up to a point parallel with an easy ledge system. Now all I had to do was exposed traverse over to the ledge. I found a single solid edge for both hands, which put me off-balance for swinging my left leg over to the ledge. I was having flashbacks of trying to climb snow-covered verglas and rotten rock on Little Bear in whiteout conditions. After three unsettling tries I got my left foot over to the ledge wedged between a crumbly flake and the vertical chimney face. I managed to grab another hold before the flake pulled off. Jascha had gone around and hurried up another set of ledges to try and get above me in case I needed assistance. We made it to the notch unscathed.

From the notch we headed up the next tower. I expected the rock quality to improve, but it didn't. We cautiously tiptoed our way up the ridge trying to avoid pulling off any holds or slipping as granite crystals rolled off under our feet. The first major notch appeared and we found a way on the right side of the ridge to downclimb into it. There was an obvious leftward leaning ramp leading out of the notch. The moderate class 5 ramp system, although exposed, provided fairly easy going until I got to a mini-roof that required making a series of committing slab moves. The knob under my left foot crumbled off (not inspiring), but I managed to get up my nerve and pull through the roof.

Finally the exposure eased up. We walked over piles of broken dark gray rocks and icy slabs, bypassing one separated tower to the right. We ended up in a small notch just below a knife-edged ridge covered with more dark broken rock and an ominous set of towers. We decided to get up onto the ridge for a better look at our path forward. The rock continued to crumble beneath us. Once on the ridge it looked likely that we would have to get out our gear for the two towers. I wasn't confident that pro would even hold given the rock quality. Even though we had soloed a number of routes of similar difficulty this summer (Matthes, Cathedral, Thunderbolt to Sill) we were both starting to feel mentally drained from the crappy rock combined with the exposure. To date I hadn't encountered this much continuous loose rock on a class 5 route in the Sierra, plus we were fresh off of our mini-epic from the Sill decent. After a brief discussion we decided to bail (upon which I discovered I had left my ATC Guide at home). It took one rap to drop down to easier ground, which put us just south of the base of the NE Ridge. We made it back to the trailhead with daylight to spare and headed back to my house for tempura udon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

managing alpine expectations

I probably shouldn't complain when I say that I had to downscale my E Sierra summer climbing plans. It has been my most productive alpine season to date (26 peaks), pretty good considering I lost a month of climbing to some intestinal bug and I have been splitting time in L.A. Having a boyfriend (yet alone one four hours away) wasn't exactly in my original schedule.

Labor Day weekend rolled around and we decided to
do something a bit more ambitious. Jascha expressed interest in doing the Palisades Traverse from Thunderbolt to Sill, which I had done the previous summer. I was game, although I was hoping to solo the route this time. Last year we had roped up for the summit block and rapped a few sections. The only section I wasn't sure we could solo was an exposed notch with an overhanging boulder between Starlight and N Palisade. Rapping this notch requires a pendulum across the gap. I had received some potential beta on summitpost for this section, but hadn't heard from anyone who had actually soloed it. We decided to carry a 30m rope and slings just in case we got stuck. Our plan was to return via Potluck Pass as suggested by someone on summitpost. Most people do the traverse from the Glacier Lodge trailhead or with a car shuttle between S Lake and Glacier Lodge.

We headed out from the S Lake trailhead at the ungodly time of 4:20a. It was cold, cold enough for Jascha to notice, but I had wisely packed a hat and down jacket. The trek up Bishop Pass and over to the base of the SW Chute #1 of Thunderbolt went quickly, but I was dragging up the sloggy chute. I hoped that this was not indicative of how the rest of the day would go. As we approached the Thunderbolt summit we saw a party of three heading over to Starlight.

Our first major obstacle was the slabby T-bolt summit block. We put on our climbing shoes and Jascha let me go first. I had forgotten about the absence of holds on the top of the summit block and I paused for a moment before pulling over. I had Jascha spot me for the downclimb. If I fell at least I'd bounce off the blocks below first. Jascha found a step across method for surmounting the block, then made the downclimb look easy. We never found the register.

We picked up the pace on the traverse to Starlight and soon caught up with the party of three. They were roping up for a lot of the traverses and downclimbs. On the Starlight summit we met a guy from San Francisco, who was also attempting to do the traverse, but with a rope. He said that he was going slow and was doubtful that he would make it all the way to Sill. I told him to keep going because the traverse is shorter than it looks. Jascha and I took turns heading up the Starlight summit block. The summit register was present, but there was no pen. Foiled again.

We were on to N Palisade and the notch. The downclimbing was fairly straightforward and we
passed up the SF guy. At the notch I headed down the E side as recommended to me on summitpost. The rock was a tad bit loose but I was soon in the notch below the overhanging boulder. Jascha didn't like the prospect of exposed loose rock and found a different way down. Our options were a short committing lieback and a somewhat awkward ramp and step-across to a ledge. We chose the latter. From here it was a short jaunt to the N Pal summit.

Last year we had rapped the N Pal chimney and I recalled it looking more challenging than its 5.2 rating. When we got the top of the chimney it didn't look any easier than I had remembered. There was an alternate rap station, but I knew the route started at the top of the U-notch and it didn't look right. As we headed down the chimney we found some loose rock, but also hand and footholds when needed. Soon we were down and standing at the top of the U-notch.

I remembered the route up Polemonium, providing the last major exposure (and one of the best photo ops) on the traverse. From the summit of Polemonium we could see the final talus slog up Sill. We were doing well on time. I had wanted to get to the summit of Sill in 12 hours from the trailhead and we were still on track. Along the ridge to Sill we found a skeleton, which we later learned belonged to a deer. The trek up Sill turned out not to be as daunting as it looked and we made the summit in just under 12 hours. I knew from experience, however, that we had a long trek out. I estimated 4-6 hours to get back. Last year it took us 19 hours, 1.5 hours of which were taken up by Miguel sitting around and socializing. Little did I know just how off my estimates would be.

From the summit we scoped our our descent options. We chose one that had a series of
ramps, much more appealing than the other scree-laden chutes. Our plan was to stay fairly high and contour around the base of Polemonium toward Bishop Pass. As we dropped down we saw a series of lakes (which we wrongly decided was Palisade Basin). We passed the first two lakes and I realized we had missed Potluck Pass and we were in the wrong basin. No matter, we'd only wasted an hour or so.

As we headed up the pass Jascha was starting to slow down. I figured it was low blood sugar so I told him to eat. Knowing that we had a lot of talus ridges to navigate I wanted to get as far as we could while it was still light. The light started dwindling and the going was slow with the talus and numerous ridges. I realize in retrospect that it might have been easier to drop down to flatter ground, but at the time I wanted to stay close to the ridge given that we were trying to navigate exclusively by headlight and the outline of the peaks against the dark starry sky.

Jascha started cramping so I gave him my hydration bladder and tried to get him to keep eating. He apologized and I said no worries. I told him that I got my CO climbing partner to the finish line of Leadville 100 with completely trashed quads starting at mile 60 and assured him we'd get back to the car that night. I am still entertained when I picture Erick hanging onto trees and moaning with every step over the rooted trail. Sorry, Erick. To his credit Erick had done the MTB race the weekend prior and I DNF'd Angeles Crest 100 at mile 53 a month later. I admit that a good portion of my motivation was because I didn't want my housemate to call SAR and have us end up in Accidents in N American Mountaineering. I started getting worried when Jascha was having problems maintaining his body temperature so I tried to minimize our breaks. I had a space blanket, but didn't want us to have to bivy. Finally we crossed Thunderbolt Pass. I kept looking for the slabs below Winchell that triggered easier ground. When I knew we were below Agassiz I checked the topo and took us down a few hundred feet to flatter ground. I knew it would be hard to miss Bishop Pass even in the dark. I could see the outline of Aperature against the stars. We diagonaled NW looking for the short cliffs that border the Bishop Pass trail near the pass.

After what seemed like hours we hit the trail. We took a quick break under the shelter of a rock. I was starting to drag a bit and needed some food. Then we started the
death march back to the car. Jascha let me set a brisk pace and didn't slow or ask for a break the whole way back. In the end it took us almost 10 hours to get back to the car from the summit of Sill. We were looking forward to a shower and my pseudo Zachary's pizza, but came home to find additional house guests sleeping in the room next to the kitchen. I was unwilling to go to bed without refueling so we settled on our only option, Denny's. This week I ordered Jascha a down jacket for his birthday. Don't tell.


Last night I decided that I was long overdue for owning a copy of Russ Meyer's 1965 classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, starring the burlesque hapa sensation Tura Satana. I remember first seeing this film as an undergrad at the now defunct UC Theater in Berkeley and have since watched it many times. A Bishop screening is in the works.

Monday, September 8, 2008

in search of isan

On the way home from getting pumelled by 100 lb Thai women last night at Pho Siam, Jascha and I tried out a new Thai restaurant, Khun Dom, raved about by LA Weekly's food critic Jonathan Gold. Up until then we had been trekking over to Renu Nakorn in Norwalk whenever we had a craving for Isan treats. The prospect of an Isan restaurant half the distance away was most appealing.

The restaurant was a tiny hole in the wall in a fairly sketchy area of E Melrose. The place was packed and the tables were teeming with sticky, wriggling and screaming children and infants. Perfect. I decided to be patient and stick it out. We ordered fish cakes, som tum with dried shrimp, sticky rice, and Thai iced coffees, in addition to the highly recommended nam kao tod, a dish consisting of ground pork, pork skin, ginger, peanuts, chilies, cilantro, onion, and the pièce de résistance,
crispy rice, all bathed in a lime juice dressing. The food made it all worth it. The fish cakes were a bit rubbery, but the salads were delectable. The food came with a huge plate of fresh Thai herb/vegetables, including long beans, cilantro, cabbage, lettuce, Thai basil, and two plants I have yet to identify (see photo). Per my mom, I think one might be watercress.

Nam kao tod has now surpassed som tum as my favorite savory Thai dish and I am anxious to try the real deal on our upcoming Asia tour. Until then we'll be frequent visitors of Khun Dom.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

small bike envy

A few weeks ago Jascha picked up a gently used KLR 250 from his coworker, so after a half day in the shop machining and installing new suspension links we decided to take our bikes out for a street/dirt ride around Angeles Crest/Forest Highways. Our options for ungated dirt roads were pretty limited based on my topo, so we settled on the Lynx-Gulch 4WD road off of Upper Big Tujunga. I still had slightly ugly memories of our off-road adventure in an attempt to reach the Mt. Humphreys trailhead. Remarkably, my bike came out with only a few dings in the handlebar end weights and a slightly bent luggage rack. Maybe this would be a kinder gentler trail more suitable for a bike that weighed more than 3 times more than me.

I was in my element on the windy AC/FH roads and blissfully took a wrong turn down Big Tujunga (v. Upper Big Tujunga). I didn't figure this out until we bottomed out in the canyon just before Sunland. We cruised back up the hill and onto Upper Big Tujunga to the Lynx-Gulch turn-off. The first part went OK; I made it through the sandy and rutted sections and rode through a creek after only minor hesitation. Then I saw Jascha stop
ahead. When I caught up I saw a steep curvy downhill covered with major ruts and broken pavement sprinkled with gravel, not inspiring. I started down the hill after Jascha, skidded out in the gravel, and dumped my bike. I tried, but couldn't pick it up on with the angle of the hill and sketchy footing. Jascha came back up and helped me turn my bike upright.

So much for my bike karma. My clutch lever had snapped off leaving ~ 1.5 inches past the bend for shifting, my fender was scratched, and my left turn signal was smashed. More damaged, however,
was my fragile pride. I've been riding for 7+ years (enduros for 3 years) and I should have better offroad skills. I was pissed and not psyched to dump my bike a bunch more times trying to get down the hill, but I was also stubborn and didn't want to swap Jascha for his ~250 lb bike. Reluctantly I agreed. What a difference. The KLR was light and nimble and I wasn't fighting to keep it up when it tipped. My riding skills magically improved. We swapped back bikes at the road and headed home.

We later found a defect in the clutch lever cast; the fracture occurred at an air bubble. BMW of Hollywood said it would take 5 days to get in a new clutch lever and I wanted to get back home to Bishop. Luckily we were able to crank out a new lever and epoxy my turn signal back together at Jascha's shop. I told my friend Chris what happened and he said not to worry; he had broken a number of clutch/brake levers. Maybe when I finally get settled into more permanent living arrangements I will pick up a dirt bike. In the interim I should probably invest in some Barkbusters.