Thursday, December 25, 2008

DDTV - Loco Layering!

Happy Holidays from the D&D crew! Here's a zany layering video we made in a fit of glee.

YouTube: High - Low

Can you name all the layers we've donned?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Earth and Sun say: "Winter is Here"

If the intense winter weather of the last couple weeks wasn't enough to convince you, yesterday the winter solstice officially passed. Thanks to a delightful 23.5 degree tilt to the Earth's axis, we experience these changes in season each year as we round the sun.

For those of us in the Bay Area, the onset of winter means brutally cold temperatures in the 40's, and light to moderate rains. Though our winter looks like spring or fall in many other places, just a few hours east of here, in the beloved Sierra Nevada, we are often blessed with a thick, stable snowpack in all but the driest of years. That means skiing and snowshoeing for us here at D&D!

Wet and rainy winter weather in the Bay Area means.....

That means that every time it has rained since late November, I get giddy with joy at the prospect some of that moisture might be punching through to the mountains and blanketing them in snow. I've been checking forecasts and satellites religiously. I regularly scope out the Sugar Bowl and Yosemite webcams just to get a little taste. I'm busy these weekends leading up to the holidays, but after that, it's on!

Image Credit: MODIS AQUA "Daily Afternoon" December 22, 2008 -- NASA
...a delightful dusting of snow in the Sierra

What a great place to live where you almost never have to deal with freezing weather, except when you choose to. In Dallas we would have winter storms a couple times a year, yet we were infinitely far from winter recreation; what a tease! Here, we can enjoy skiing and snowshoeing from November or December until late spring, sometimes early summer in the right places.

This winter we plan to:
  • Take Amber downhill skiing for the first time
  • Try snow camping for the first time
  • Become more confident on cross-country skis
  • Learn more about winter weather, snow conditions, & avalanches
  • Make safe snowshoe ascents of some moderate peaks

Time to get out and enjoy the snow again!

So whatever you believe the reason for the season is, don't underestimate the influence of that 23.5 degree tilt, on the seasons Earth creates as we circle the Sun. As we gather with friends and family, we celebrate that the days once again grow longer. As we enjoy winters splendor in the out-of-doors, be thankful the days don't grow longer too fast, and be grateful winter is only really beginning. I hope everyone finds some way to enjoy this season, no matter where you live.

(note: Southern Hemisphere excluded... it is NOT winter there!)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Recent Event - TBS4 @ GWPC

November 21, 2008

A couple of weeks ago we participated in the TBS 4 bouldering competition at the Great Western Power Company climbing gym in Oakland. We had a blast. The gym was packed to the brim with people all trying their skills on the new bouldering routes. Eric, Kenneth, and I all competed under the beginner category, although Kenneth might have been fibbing a little. He's slightly better than a beginner.

Some roped problems were replaced with bouldering problems.

Eric and I attempted most of the VOs and a couple of V1s. I've never seen so many people crammed into that tiny gym. The entire bouldering wall had been replaced with new routes for the competition, and everyone was eager to climb. Eric finished most of the VOs with little trouble, but I only finished a few. Eric struggled with a few V2s, and Kenneth conquered some of the harder routes that were above our level.

The new routes on the GWPC bouldering wall.

I fought with a VO in the corner about five times without ever finishing it, but the next time I went to the gym to try it, I completed it. I did try a V1 that night, and finished it the first time I tried it! Did I mention the flow of pizza and beer? That alone can make the competition well worth a shot. This competition was my first, but probably not my last. I was a little sore the next day, but it was worth it. Competitions are a great way to test your level of climbing, and to enjoy a fun night out trying to out-climb your friends. I may have come in last place, but I had a great deal of fun doing it, and that's all that matters. Here are the results of the competition.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Indian Cove Turkey Days

Trip Report - Joshua Tree National Park
Indian Cove area
November 27 - 30, 2008

The park is named for an abundance of these goofy-looking trees

Climbers' Holiday

Earlier this year, Amber and I decided that since it wasn't a good time to go to Texas this year for the Holidays, we'd spend one holiday with her family, and for the other, do something for ourselves. As it turned out, we'd be doing our own thing over the break for Thanksgiving, and in October, got invited along to Joshua Tree with the D.O.A. and some of their friends.

Kenenth, also invited, rode down with us and we met up with everyone in the Indian Cove area of Joshua Tree National Park. Indian Cove is a sheltered nook in the rocks just south of Twenty-nine Palms, outside of the 'main' park road. It's a good spot because the campsites are reservable, and Indian Cove is lower elevation and more sheltered from the wind and cold. There is a lot more climbing in the 'main park' but Indian Cove still has boulders and walls as far as the eye can see; more than enough to keep you busy.

Landscape typical of Indian Cove

We thought at first the place might be pretty empty, but, as it turns out, Thanksgiving is a popular climbers' holiday in Joshua Tree. There was a large proportion of climbers camped all throughout the campground, and the group areas were full of climbing clubs of varying degrees of formality. Luckily it had just rained the day before, so some people still bailed on their plans. It was close to full but not packed, and it was never too hard to get on a climb.

After arriving post-sunset on Thanksgiving Day, we feasted on stove-top stuffing, gravy, and foil-packet chicken. The we headed over to the Rock-Rendevous (a Bay Area club) group site, to share and feast on delicious pies. Throughout the weekend we had an excess of pie. Never before has there been so much pie consumed on a camping trip. If you like pie, I suggest going camping at Thanksgiving. Everyone will bring pie.

Our campsite, nestled amongst the rock

Lazy Lead

Feeling a little blown out from the drive, and not wishing to repeat the depletion of the last few trips, Amber and I decided to take it a little easier, since we were "on vacation". We went for a scrambling hike partway up rattlesnake canyon, which really helped loosen me up. Later we were ready to start climbing, but everyone had taken off so we had to find something the two of us could handle on our own.

Joshua Tree is primarily a trad climbing area, so we looked for something easy enough for me to lead. The rock there is awesome, similar Quartz Monzonite as you find in the Alabama Hills. Its a rock with great friction, but rough on clothing and skin as it has huge, sharp quartz crystals. The main difference to the Alabama hills, besides some differences in weathering, is the lack of bolts at Joshua Tree. There are few bolted climbs, and even fewer with top anchor/rappell bolts. It's important to scope out the descent before you head up and always take enough gear to build an anchor.

So we found this 5.3 "Double Crack" on the short wall that seemed easy enough, but turned out to be awfully awkward. It tested my skills as a leader, and even though I've worked leads on harder routes, was the hardest lead I've done to date. The main issue was awkward stances, and me spending a lot of time trying to get solid placements in the irregular rock. Amber also had some difficulty while cleaning. She slipped onto the rope a bit at one point, but that's no big deal when you're roped from above. Just as we finished, our friends showed up from their climb, and Amber and I really enjoyed the notion we had done that short climb "all by ourselves".

Kenneth leading the 'Double Crack' the next day

Leading ate a lot of my mental and physical energy up, and I was a bit shaken by how difficult that climb had seemed for a 5.3. As we later learned, no one takes the numbers too seriously for the low-grade climbs at Joshua Tree; turns out they're extremely inconsistent (for a variety of reasons). Obviously we eyed up the crack ourselves and we're comfortable with it but some of the harder rated climbs on the same wall may have been easier. Enough frustration (and joy) for the day, it was time to head back to camp and recharge with a belly full of chili and wine.

Rocky Relaxation

After a great nights sleep on our new 'car camping' pads, we were ready to go at it again. We tried to find some friends of Kenneth's in the main park. They didn't show, but we found the war zone aftermath of the CHAOS (Berkeley club) campsite. The wind had thrown their chairs in the fire and the stragglers that morning looked a bit shell-shocked. We took some pictures of the park, grabbed a snack and firewood at the gas station, and headed back to Indian Cove were the weather was much, much nicer (i.e. not windy and cold).

Stunning view of San Gorgonio from inside the main park

We did a couple more climbs on the short wall with Kenneth (he didn't lead much the day before so he wanted time to play with his gear). One was a fist crack that turned out to be super fun, and not nearly as awkward as the day before. It was a good mixture of climbing and relaxation for the weekend and I was glad I didn't beat myself up too much.

Belaying attentively, with the not so bad 'crowds' in the background

Amber giving it to a fist crack... Look at that awesome fist jam!

Since we'd had a late lunch, we screwed around a long time at camp that evening. Kenneth, Amber and I made up a gear placement practice drinking game. Well it wasn't much of a drinking game, but it was still fun. Our campsite was surrounded by features and boulders, flakes and cracks, and we were able to find placements for almost everything we pulled off the racks. It was fun and we all learned a little bit by having each other test the placements.

Kenneth cleaning up after all the fun

That night around the campfire, all the climbers traded the days stories, and shared thoughts and tips about climbing (and a lot of beer and wine). It was a great trip, but we'd wished we could have stayed a little longer. Especially as that would have helped us avoid the horrendous holiday traffic on I-5 the next day. Despite the fact it took almost 11 hours (3 hours extra) to get home, we stayed cheerful and upbeat as we rode out of a near-perfect holiday weekend.

Photo Gallery:
Indian Cove (Joshua Tree)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Gear Review - Big Agnes Seedhouse SL3

Like this post? Then check out our new YouTube channel: Ramblin' Bears!

Big Agnes - Seedhouse SL3
Ultralight 3-Season Tent

Seedhouse SL3 (fly-off) at a backpacking camp

The Seedhouse SL3 is one of the finest tents I have ever had the pleasure of using. It took a really long time to pick out a new tent earlier this year, and I'm excited to finally have enough experience with it to write a review. While it is billed as a three-person tent, it (like most others in this class) is really intended for 2 people who like a lot of space (like Amber and I). You could however, house a third person in a real pinch.

Seedhouse SL3 fly door open

We looked at a number of 2 and 3 person backpacking tents. Especially those from the North Face, Sierra Designs, Marmot and MSR. In the end, the Big Agnes was the most enticing. It has a simple, no-nonsense, freestanding design that gives a ton of space, good weather resistance, and an extremely light packing weight (around 5 lbs.). There is also a non-superlight version for those of you looking to save a few bucks and gain a few ounces.

Seedhouse SL3 side view (notice pole structure)

Although it is freestanding, you'll want to guy the fly out whenever possible, which really doesn't take too long. This gives you a drum-tight weather shell, and good ventilation. Many of the other tents we looked at have dual doors, which is a deal-breaker for some, but we don't have any trouble getting in and out he main door. We also purchased the footprint, which is nice as you can set the tent up in various configurations, or put it together fly first in a downpour to keep the tent body dry.

Seedhouse SL3 sealed up

I've heard other reviewers complain about condensation, since there aren't any dedicated vents. I don't find it to be a big problem. The fly door unzips from the top or bottom, and you can easily vent well properly buy opening a hole at the top of the fly door. Also, since the materials are impervious on both sides, you can easily wipe it down with a camp towel if you're in a hurry and it is moist. As long as you are careful to seat all the pole joints correctly, and not hook things in the mesh, it will be a tough little tent.

Seedhouse SL3 reflective guy-outs

We haven't yet had the tent out in truly heavy weather, but it has weather light rain and moderate winds quite well. It doesnt flop around like our old dome tent, and although we bought it for backpacking, we now take it almost every time we go car camping. Something about it's cocoon-like shape makes for a comforting nights sleep. Well worth the price, and if you look hard enough, you may even find it on sale!

  • Low packing weight for class
  • Easy clip & pole set-up
  • Double-sealed fly and footprint
  • Very cozy

  • Superlight materials demand respect
  • Only one door / entrance
  • Can require creative condensation management
External Links:
  • Sleeping capacity - 3
  • Average minimum weight - 3 lb. 15 oz.
  • Average packaged weight - 4 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Floor dimensions - 90 x 73 inches
  • Peak height - 46 inches
  • Floor area - 36 square feet
  • Vestibule area - 11 square feet
  • Canopy fabric - Nylon mesh
  • Rainfly fabric - Coated nylon ripstop
  • Floor fabric - Coated nylon ripstop
  • Doors - 1
  • Number of poles - 3
  • Pole material - Aluminum DAC Featherlite NSL
  • Pole diameter - 8.2 millimeters
  • Packed size - 8 x 20 inches

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Consumnes Topropes with the D.O.A.

Action Report - Climbing at Consumnes River Gorge
Placerville, California
November 8, 2008

Amber starting Popcorn (5.6/5.7)

On Saturday, November 8th, we headed up to the Consumes River Gorge near Placerville, for a day of toprope fun. There was a threat of rain in the air, so we worked to get as much in by just setting topropes and working around the main area. We met up with some of the D.O.A. as well as some of the usual suspects such as squishy and a_reqieum.

Consumnes is a popular winter crag as it seems to be too hot in the summer, but is low enough to stay climbable most of the winter. Many other parties were on the adjacent routes and it was a day of share and share alike! Amber climbed a nice 5.7 crack and another route called "Popcorn". She performed really well, even though she had a bit of a sniffle.

The short, fun hand crack of pleasure!

Kenneth and I worked up this 5.8 hand crack he eyed on the Great Flake, and we climbed it handily once we figured out the bouldery start. Several others climbed it later. After that I worked on two of the harder routes I've tried. I was able to climb them both, but had to hangdog before finishing.

Test Piece (5.8) is a fairly straightforward lieback, but it takes a lot of energy. Dinkum (5.9) was my favorite. It has a substantial finger-crack section that is strenuous but fun. The feet give out in the middle, so you have to be fully prepared to crack-climb. The trouble I had with both climbs came in sections where there was a large chunky hole in the climb that required a shift in technique. I'll be more preared for that in the future. Maybe one day I can climb it blindfolded like Nat.

D.O.A. Porn Stars on a trad climbing adventure

After the climbs we headed to D.O.A. Headquarters for pizza, wine, and a racous screening of Team America: World Police. We were just in time too. No sooner did we load up the cars than it started to pour! A highly successful day of climbing, too bad I was sore for 4 days! Check out the photo gallery for a lot more action!

Photo Gallery:
Consumnes River Gorge