Tuesday, January 27, 2009

delusional ultra thoughts

It's that time of year again when I start obsessing about my various outdoor goals for the year. I've already gone under the knife once for running-related injuries and I still have occasional hip tendonitis, but I enjoy grueling hill climbs and technical downhills. Naturally my thoughts turn to racing again. Having a bunch of very encouraging ultrarunner friends doesn't help. My thought train is somewhat along the lines of: Maybe I could just do 50Ks, but I used to do 50Ks as training runs. I could probably do an occasional 50M. It's training for AC100 that did me in. Or, I could the low mileage plan. It's a slippery slope.

At any rate I promised myself I wouldn't jeopardize my climbing pursuits by trashing myself running, so to kick off my new plan (and last few days of occupational free agent status)
I decided to do a "short" run in the San Gabriels. Jascha and I had tried to do this ~14 mile loop (with at least 3700' of gain) before but got rained out. The run/hike starts and ends at Lake Avenue in Pasadena and follows Sam Merrill trail up and over Echo Mtn. to Mt. Lowe, which once housed a tramway. I've been on middle Sam Merrill several times previously, as it's part of the AC100 course, and it's one of my favorite local trails. Unfortunately, Jascha couldn't join me this time because of work and affliction with an intestinal flu, which we will blame on Pez & Pezlet Hansen ;), who were both recovering from the flu during our Sunday visit.

I made good time on lower Sam Merrill, despite getting passed by 2 guys who were running to Echo Mtn. and back. The skies were clear and sparkling blue and I recognized the tree under which we huddled during the downpour and the spot where we'd previously turned around on middle Sam Merrill. It was a bit chilly in the forested section (one of my favorites) that passes several granite outcroppings. I wondered if part of the reason I like this section is that it marks the end of the climb out of Idlehour on the AC100 course that seems to go on forever, known by some as the longest 3 miles you'll ever do. At the junction with the Mt. Lowe I stopped to assist a guy
(with a topo map) who mistakenly thought he was at Markham Saddle, then headed over the the Mt. Lowe loop.

I took the E trail first and passed several patches of trail that were dusted with snow. The top of Mt. Lowe has some
remnants of the old railway, including a collection of peak location aids. I could clearly see Mt. Baldy in the background. On the 7 mile descent I took the W trail to complete my loop. It was a fun downhill with some rocky sections. I backtracked on Sam Merrill (a most excellent descent) to Lake. I look forward to many repeats.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

cutting our losses

Two months into our planned 3 month trip to India and SE Asia we were having difficulties entertaining ourselves. We missed the varied climbing and trails back home, and the steep limestone sport routes on friable rock weren't cutting it. Initially we had hopes that each new city/country would be different, but instead we found similar temples, similar food, and similar people preying on the tourists. We still had Vietnam and Myanmar to go, but we were doubtful we would find anything different. Just before Christmas I started having insomnia. When we finally admitted to each other that we were bored out of our minds it was a relief.

Now we had to figure out our options. In my usual style I drew out a flow chart with the pros, cons and tasks associated with
each of the paths. We contemplated skipping Myanmar and heading back to Vang Vieng to help the locals rebolt one of the walls or heading home to climb at Red Rocks or J-tree. I drew out a matrix of what cost we were willing to bear if we could get back to the States at various intervals preceding our original return date (6 Feb). I had purchased return tickets online and we were getting the runaround from our S Korea-based airlines (Asiana) about the ability to change the ticket and whether they would issue a refund. It didn't help that we couldn't get a hold of the online booking service because of the New Year's holiday. Finally we managed to get most of our Asiana ticket refunded (or at least a promised refund) and for a few hundred dollars more a flight home on ANA in less than a week.

Once we got back to L.A. we spent two days adjusting to the time change and pulling together our climbing gear. Then we hopped in the car and headed off to Red Rocks with spring-like temps predicted. I felt like crap for the first 2 days with my jet lag and preceding weeks of insomnia, but on the third day we set off for Olive Oil. After an inadvertent detour on the approach we ended up at the base of the route behind Robyn and Mike. Robyn is one of the few lucky individuals to have found regular employment in Bishop. It was nice to be on towering sandstone again. The first part of the route was uneventful although I overshot the 4th belay and had to downclimb to the ledge. The next pitch had a long chimney. As it narrowed I had to climb the neighboring face to get through with my pack. We took in the views before heading down the descent trail.

The next
climb we did was a link-up between Johnny Vegas and Solar Slab. Together they make up 9-11 pitches (depending on where you set your belays), but (as we found out the hard way) with its rope eating cracks and edges it sucks up precious winter daylight. Solar Slab was old school 5.6, in contrast to the more modern (easy for the grade) routes we'd been doing. We ended up skipping the final pitch of Solar Slab when the route became shaded and a frigid wind picked up. This was fortunate, as our rope became stuck multiple times and I had to do some somewhat sketchy soloing to remediate the situation. We ended up at the bottom of the route just as total darkness fell.

The next day we caught up with Masa and Chris at Kim Pho Long, who were visiting from Vancouver, B.C. They were unsympathetic to our whining about the cold, although they too had rope issues on their descent. They were planning to return the next day to extract their rope from the first pitch. Masa was originally supposed to accompany us on our Enfield tour, but hadn't received permission from India's tourism department to write up the story for a Canadian magazine. We filled them in on our Asia adventures. Jascha had booked us at the posh Palms Place for a few nights as a belated b-day present for me, a far cry from my undergrad days of shivering in a tent at the old Red Rocks campground.

Next on our list was Birdland, the same route that had eaten Masa's and Chris'. With our 70m rope the route went quickly. The 5.7+ final finger crack on the last pitch was particularly choice. We were also
fortunate to spend the last few pitches and entire rap watching a herd of 5 female bighorn sheep who weren't particularly disturbed by our presence. They remained near the base of the route even after we finished our rappel.

I decided to do something a bit harder, so we set our sites on Armatron, a route on the somewhat remote (N) Brownstone Wall, known for unique tile-like rock formations. I was a bit worried when we left the car at 9:20a, but we shaved 20 minutes off the lower estimated approach time on our topo. There was another party on Rainbow Wall and one on Cat Scratch Fever (S Brownstone Wall). We received our introduction to the tiles on the bolted first pitch. The crux came early on the second pitch. The finger crack preceding it took bomber nut placements and the crux itself (a thin traverse to another crack system) was protected by a bolt. The next two pitches were almost exclusively on the tiles and I doddled trying to find the infrequent solid nut placements. Technically the route ends after pitch 4, but it is recommended that you do the final pitches of Requiem for a Tadpole then top out on Juniper Peak. This has the added advantage of a quick walk-off descent. Even though I was trying to exclusively use nuts for pro, I happily used one of the new TCUs Jascha bought me for my b-day at the last belay. We found a fun exposed class 4 traverse just below the summit and topped out. After locating the correct gully (the cairns had likely fallen during the last snowstorm) we headed down. The party on Cat Scratch Fever looked like they might be at it still as darkness fell, but they didn't appear distressed. I was happy that we were heading down in the daylight as there were still patches of ice on the approach slabs.

I had a job interview in a few days back in L.A., so we got in one last day of climbing in Calico Basin. I'm not exactly back in sport climbing condition, so I picked out Ultraman Wall for its 5.8-5.9 runout slab climbs (which Jerry Handren categorizes as mixed routes b/c they are "too runout to be sport climbs"). They did not disappoint, especially Speedracer, a 140' 5.8+ with ~17 feet between bolts requiring multiple moves off of tiny slopers. We had a fairly lazy last day aside from our worked fingertips. It was nice to be once again be home.