Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Climbing with Hans

A few weeks ago, Eric and I were at the climbing gym when we noticed that Hans Florine was giving a lecture. (Hans Florine is an American climber famous for holding the world record for the fastest climb up El Captain, in Yosemite.) We thought to ourselves, "hell yeah we should go to that!" I was actually amazed that the bouldering wall and big walls didn't completely lose climbers when his lecture started. I guess that goes to show who the real climbers are.

The Nose of El Captain

Hans was hilarious. He showed us some video of him and Yugi (his climbing partner) hustling up the nose on El Captain, more than once. He shared stories of failed attempts, and records that were broken three days later by his rivals. Hans prepared a slide show of information we needed to know about the climb, and the history of his ascents. There were other hard core climbers in the audience, and some of them had also climbed with Hans before.

At the end of the lecture Hans was signing books, posters, and DVDs. We ended up buying a copy of Wall Rats, which is a movie about Hans Florine taking a couple of advanced child climbers up the the nose El Cap. Good thing they took credit cards! We also got a signed poster, which is always a plus.

It's been so much fun learning the history of climbing. It's a relatively new sport, and some (if not most) of the record setters are still alive to tell their stories. Not many sports have that going for them. Seeing people like Hans go out there and tell their stories reminds me why I like climbing. It creates adventure, laughs, stories, and friendships. And I love all of those things!

YouTube: High - Low
Masters of Stone Clip of Hans and Yugi setting a speed record on The Nose

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Holiday Recap Pt. II

Trip Report - Winter Fun in the Southern Sierra
Lake Isabella / Kern River Valley / Greenhorn Mts, Wofford Heights, CA
January 1 - 5, 2008

After a couple days at work between Christmas and New Year's, Amber and I headed south to meet some Santa Barbara friends for a sort of ski trip with other stuff mixed in. We stayed at a rental lake house near Lake Isabella, in the Kern River Valley. A short drive away is the small ski resort Alta Sierra (formerly Shirley Meadows). We spent the next few days playing up in the Greenhorn Mountains and also in the Kern River Valley.

View to the east across Lake Isabella

Friday most of us seized upon Alta Sierra's 'Friday Special' which was a comprehensive learn-to-ski or learn-to-snowboard package for only $60. The trip was a bit of a belated birthday celebration for Traves, who was dying to try snowboarding. Keely and Traves signed up for snowboard lessons, while Mike, Amber, and I took a downhill skiing class. The place is tiny, and only has two short lifts, but as newbies of one sort or another it didn't matter much and the price meant we really got our money's worth.

Amber and I did cross-country several times last season, and I had skied a few times as a teenage, but it was good to get fresh bearings on the downhill skis. Amber soon got comfortable on the easy-turning downhill skis and went to work learning to make big esses all the way down the slope. Mike, having never been on skis at all, struggled a little more. I marveled both last year with Amber, and this year with Mike, at how difficult it is to communicate the motions of skiing. Something that seems so natural once you get it, is in reality, awkward, counter-intuitive, and difficult to communicate. But although he tumbled several times, Mike was getting it as the day went along, and was really a trooper. He would get a lot out of this YouTube Learn to Ski playlist we found before the trip.

Snowboarding seems terrifying to me, and Amber has had a bad experience with it before, but Keely and Traves took to it pretty well! By the end of the day, Keely was boarding good distances in a very controlled manner before stopping. Traves had a different approach, he would go as fast as possible and then bail. What seemed terrifying to me was very enjoyable to him, as he would howl with delight after each crash. All in all, everyone had a good time on the mountain that day.

Driving into Kernville

The next day we took it a little easier, flopping around much of the morning, then several of the guys went hiking in the afternoon. We searched for some hot springs, which turned out to be a bit of a bust, and searched for snowshoe rentals, which turned out to be a bit of a bust... The redeeming factor that day was braving the black ice for a delicious dinner at the Kern River Brewing Company, which came highly recommended. Also we were able to recon some of the climbing areas in case we should return some day. Oh, and the champagne, don't forget the champagne.

Surface Hoar

Rime on trees (notice how it coats the windward side)

Though we couldn't find snowshoes for a hike, we did go and have a good time in the snow on Sunday. Amber and I loaded up all the snow junk we could muster and everyone else suited up as well as possible. We hiked around to find a good hill for which Keely had the foresight to get some sleds. When we arrived that morning there was good-sized hoar frost crystals on top of the snow, and the trees were covered in what looked like rime. I dug a test pit and Amber, Keely and I did our best to work through a snow assessment.

Finding the right place to play

Keely enjoying a sled ride

Then the real fun began... We divided into two teams, and spent hours building two huge snow-forts. We stockpiled snowballs then had a breif snowball fight that completely exhausted us. In the afternoon, the sun disappeared and it got pretty chilly, but everyone was doing well. Some snowboarders were screwing around nearby as well. Finally we truged back up to the car, and headed back down to the cabin to unwind.

Traves and Brett build their fort

Our snow fort has deadly spikes!

All-in-all I really enjoyed the trip. The propane tank went out one night and left us without heat for a little while, but he lady who ran the place came and fixed it first thing the next morning. The house had a nice view, and was a good deal since the area sees more visitors in summer, due to the lake. There is also a lot of rock climbing in the area, which we scoped out a bit. Since the valley stays snow-free, it would be fun to return in winter and do some climbing, as the weather was really good for it. Another reason I love California: each season brings so many different options!

Photo Gallery:
Lake Isabella / Shirley Meadows

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Aerial Ski Tramways

As it turns out, I love skiing. I once flirted with snowboarding, but only because when I was 16 I thought boy snowboarders looked cooler than boy skiers. The fling with snowboarding ended very quickly. Being frustrated, cold, and on my ass the entire day was not my idea of a good time. Skiing, however, is the exact opposite of that. I was happy, warm, and on my feet. I was also wrong about boy skiers. They are just as cool as the snowboarders, and just as cute.

Eric and I rang in the new year up near Lake Isabella at "the lake house." We went with a group of friends to play in the snow at Alta Sierra, and to drink massive amounts of champagne. We had been cross country skiing before, but never downhill skiing. This time we went downhill skiing, and had a blast!

One aspect of skiing, is finding a way to the top of a mountain. This is really the only way to achieve true downhill skiing. If you were to ski uphill you would be cross country skiing, or possibly ski touring. These are all completely different animals, and this particular weekend I was tackling the art of downhill skiing. To get up hill, most people use a ski chair lift. Ski chair lifts are one aspect of skiing that stood out to me about the last trip. I almost forgot how much I hated the lift.

Image Credit: Chris Pimlott -- cc-by-sa-2.5 license
Short Cut chair lift at The Canyons, Park City, Utah

I dread the ride every time, and I always think I'm going to end up on my butt at the end of it. This time however, was different. I just stood up and glided off the lift. Amazing. How did it work? How was it that I didn't fall? The answer? I was on skis, not a snowboard.

The lift can be brutal to new snowboarders, and new skiers. Not only did one of our friends need the lift stopped for him after he fell getting off it the first time, but he also ended up taking out a cake that happened to be sitting near the lift area. We still don't know what a cake was doing on the slopes, but our friend managed to ruin it with his skis. Lifts are a hell of an invention, and downhill skiing wouldn't be the same without them.

In 1936 Sun Valley Idaho opened a ski resort, equipped with the very first chair lift. The new lift was located on Proctor Mountain, and parts of it are still in use today in Boyne Mountain, Michigan. Ski lifts were originally patent with the name "Aerial Ski Tramway" and were created by Sun Valley's creator, W. Averell Harriman. He was a former New York Governor, and was also loaded. His design was inspired by banana loading equipment used for fruit ships, and that is exactly what I feel like when I'm in one. A piece of cargo being shipped.

Lifts are scary. If you're not careful, you could end up like a piece of cargo fruit. Stripped like a fallen banana, and found hanging by your underoos. Skiing is super fun, but ski lifts still make me nervous. My throat always drops into my tummy right before I have to get off, but somehow I manage to pull myself together and get off of it in one piece. Lifts are a necessity to downhill skiing, so I guess I just need more practice on them. Hopefully no more cakes will be sacrificed.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Holiday Recap Pt. I

Action Report - Success on Cathedral ...err Arlington Peak
Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara, CA
December 28, 2008

Michael, Amber, and myself atop Arlington Peak

After spending most of the holiday week either with family or prepping Amber's car to take over the role of Adventuremobile from the Golf *tear*, we needed some release. We had planned to go to Mt. Pinos for some winter action, but that plan fell through due to exhaustion. Sunday was our last day in the Santa Barbara area, and we needed some release before heading back to work.

Hang glider soaring over the Santa Ynez

We met up with Michael, and decided to tackle the Cathedral Peak trail, one of the most beautiful 'hikes' in Santa Barbara, and possibly the toughest. I say 'hikes' because there is a lot of scrambling and bouldering involved, and during an earlier attempt this year we turned back due to time. While the route is occasionally class 1, much of the time is spent on class 2-3 terrain; a maze of boulders and manzanita brush.

The "trail" is the ridge leading to the summit

The Cathedral Peak trail is one of the only trails in the Santa Barbara front country that feels like a real mountain experience. It's rarely exposed in any dangerous way, but once you climb up on the "Dragon's Back" the terrain drops off to the left and right. Essentially you pick your way right up the east ridge of the mountain. It's about 3000 ft. of elevation gain in 2 miles, most of that the latter half of the hike.

Arlington Peak is on the left and the "Dragon's Back" route is the rocky ridge leading up to it from right to left

Amber had a hard time getting warmed up. I think we were a bit drained and also had perhaps too-heavy a breakfast. We estimated the hike would take about 4 hours, but it ended up taking closer to 6. Mike was a powerhouse the whole time, he never has to slow down (except to wait for us). If you're looking for a hiking partner who can keep a blustery pace, get in contact with this guy.

View down to the trailhead (yes, there is a reason it looks straight down!)

As we got closer to the top, Amber got her energy back and was really trucking along. Soon we were on top of Arlington Peak, and although I have been to many vistas in the Santa Ynez, this one is worth the trouble. On top of that the storms earlier in the week and winter air made for one of the clearest days I have seen in Santa Barbara. We could see practically all of the Channel Islands, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the Santa Barbara and Ventura coasts. We also had a good vantage point to see the fire scars from both the Tea Fire and an earlier fire in Goelta.

View to the Channel Islands

Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands

View through the gap between Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands

Land scarred by the Tea Fire

Though the sandstone tooth of Cathedral Peak was just across the way from here, the hike to Arlington is the bulk of the trail and very strenuous. We decided to call it a day there, have a snack, then head downhill to feast on Mexican food. Needless to say, all the scrambling and high-stepping (plus a few holiday pounds) left us all sore for days. Amber and I recovered just in time for the next holiday adventure...

Photo Album:
Cathedral Peak (Santa Barbara)