By | Trip Journal | No Comments

When I was in high school, I got my driver’s license in secret. After I passed my driver’s test, I went over to my friend Ari’s house, where we’d often gather to beat each other’s egos senseless at the foosball table. I’ll never forget the joy of being able to smugly suggest that we drive down to 7-11, at which my friends’ faces became a hilarious melange of excitement and indignant frustration that I’d managed to keep a secret for 6 months. The thing about talking too much about plans is, you lose lots of time and energy building a castle in the sky, instead of just building the damn castle. As Reinhold Messner famously* stated, “Every word a castle builder speaks is a brick that could have been laid.” Anyway, remember when products would come to market, instead of half-baked ideas coming to Kickstarter? I’m a little hesitant to talk about our latest mini-proj, the build-out of the new trailer, but I saw something awesome today that I wanted to share in the form of a blog post, and I can’t really give an update without mentioning it. We’re building out the new trailer. If you follow our pictures instead of our blogwords, then you already knew that. 400 amp-hours, y’all! Anyway, the awesome thing I saw was on this morning. A Japanese competition climber, who started climbing on real rocks only a few months ago, just did an 8C/V15 in Japan. He says he trains very intuitively:…

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Our Latest Release – Pottery?

By | Adventure, Trip Journal | One Comment

If you had shown us this video as we were preparing to go on the road back in 2011, we would be very, very confused. We would have had no reference points for anything contained therein. I don’t think we even knew what “micaceous” meant.* If you told us 6 years ago that we would be the ones to make the video… I’ve pointed out in the past that climbing is a wonderful way to access adventure. I’m trying to sort out how I feel about the fact that climbing in general, and our own climbing in particular, has played a diminishing role in our adventures per se, lately. But that’s for another day’s musings. Today, I want to tell you about the guy in the video, Felipe Ortega. He is: An Apache medicine man Recognized by the Smithsonian Responsible for reviving the Jicarilla Apache tradition of making bean pots from micaceous clay A widely sought-after teacher of said tradition, who charges $1500 for his tutelage A brilliant and wonderfully articulate cultural interpreter (Link is a PDF) Humble, and utterly hilarious, when the mood strikes A cancer patient in a grim situation That last one is pretty significant. Stage IV prostate cancer¹ had him with one foot in the grave, but when we met him in the fall of 2015, he had jumped right back out and was as vigorous as a man 20 years his junior. Since then his condition has oscillated between what might be called “fair,” and…

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Pissed Off

By | Adventure, Food for thought, Musings, Trip Journal | No Comments

I’m pissed, y’all. And I’m trying to process it, so bear with me. The plan, in a nutshell, was to drive around like the heroes of Rampage and climb some rocks. In doing so, we would be diving deep into the beating heart of America with a sturdy American truck, trying to get a read on what makes this country tick. Travel, they say, is a brilliant teacher, and I was eager to learn how well a lifetime of liberal indoctrination had prepared me for getting by in the so-called flyover states. And let me tell you, I wish I could distill the galaxy of lessons learned during our well-nigh 6 years of RV Projecting. It would take volumes…not to mention every wild sunset, the 4AM fuel stops, epic summits, unforgettable successes and failures, friendships of every duration and intensity, gut-dissolving tragedies…aww heck. Look at me. I got to ramblin’ again. Point is, I’ll die one of these days, but with a smile on my face. I won’t feel like the good Lord gypped me. The adventure has been a good one for us, and it’s not what I’m pissed about. See, we returned to my parents’ place in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving and some restful family time. The newspaper comes every morning, which is weird for us…and I’m pretty pissed at what I’m reading. We have a dysfunctional government being run by saboteurs. Public things–lands, services, schools, discourse–are disappearing faster than the coral reefs I used to study….

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The 3rd Annual JVBF, and Why We Are Really Proud Of It

By | Climbing, Stuff We're Psyched On, Trip Journal | One Comment

I’ll always remember our first trip to Joe’s Valley. We were young, fit, and couldn’t wait to get our hands on that dyno-happy, skin-friendly, streaked, pocketed sandstone. It was even better than we anticipated. We climbed and camped and ate giant steaks and drank palatable whiskey and burned firewood. We stayed for a month, loved every minute, and were back the next spring. It was a mostly-off-grid existence punctuated by trips into town for fuel and sundries. Now, in a big city like San Francisco, even the loudest personalities can disappear into anonymity, but when the town doesn’t even list its population on the “Welcome” sign, new faces are hard to ignore. We were anxious about how the locals might react to our puffy-coated presences. We needn’t have been. Our California license plates drew comments, yes, but only about how clean their coal-burning power plant is, and that, without it, we’d be left praying for wind and sun 24 hours a day. We had no particular reply, and some subsequent not-quite-light reading was enough to tell us the picture is more complicated than any one person or interest group is willing to admit. In any case, it was very difficult to imagine something positive resulting from making our objections to carbon dioxide emissions an issue. One fateful rest day, after seeing a sign on a bulletin board at the Food Ranch, Vikki and I and two other couples volunteered for a town clean-up in Orangeville. All 6 of us had…

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El Cap is Big and Cars Suck

By | Climbing, Food for thought, Musings | No Comments

El Capitan is big. I am qualified to say this, as I’ve spent countless hours standing about a half-mile from the base of this greater-than-half-mile tall sheet of granite. To look up and see the top, you must look past 45° above the horizontal. It feels unnecessarily big, almost rudely big. It’s like a shark, or love, or a drug trip: all the documentaries, books, and TED talks in the world will leave you no better prepared to experience it firsthand. A part of you is upset because no one told you it’d be this big. El Capitan is so big that our problems become equally small; they nearly disappear. It’s as though we’re all unified by the challenge of understanding the absurdly big thing in front of us. Tourists will approach and ask one or two of the “standard questions*,” and more often than not we will wind up standing next to each other in silence. Had the inventors of our language, the Shakespeares and the Websters and the like, visited Yosemite Valley, we might have the lexicon to discuss it properly. Or not…its bigness may have overwhelmed our wordsmiths as well. I don’t, however, hold the English language responsible for our inability to come to grips with El Capitan’s size. The fault lies with our culture, and its mandate to categorize and value anything that can be named. El Capitan has no value and defies categorization. It is art, it is love, it is the solar eclipse, it…

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Oh, the Fun You’ll Have

By | Adventure, Birthday Challenges, Climbing | No Comments

My favorite book is, unquestionably, The Phantom Tollbooth. In it, the Whether Man wisely suggests that Milo “hope for the best, expect the worst, and be unsurprised by anything in between,” or something to that effect. This year, my Birthday Challenge was an absolutely perfect illustration of this. Actually, it wasn’t a proper challenge, just a Birthday Pretty Hard. Life’s been busy and unpredictable enough that I didn’t have the time or inclination to concoct a massive challenge, but I knew I wanted to do something memorable. Since we’re living in Yosemite, doing the Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral linkup seemed perfect. The day before my birthday, I drove up to check the snow on Tenaya. It looked like the route was still climbable despite two patches sitting on the buttress, but I wasn’t sure, which made me suddenly very anxious. On top of that, I didn’t know who would be joining me for the day, I hadn’t been training much, I hadn’t been living at altitude, and I planned to do the whole day in my approach shoes, and without a rope. A few friends were driving up from the Bay Area, but would be moving more slowly because they weren’t soloing, and it seemed I might be doing most of day by myself. That would’ve been fine, basically a scaled-down version of my challenge last year, the WURL, however I was hoping to be able to share the stoke (and the route-finding) with someone. I’d attempted the linkup 7 years ago or so,…

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Yosemite’s Newest Climbing Stewards

By | Ethics, Trip Journal | No Comments

Greetings from the village formerly known as Curry in the majestic Yosemite Valley (not to be confused with the Majestic Yosemite Hotel©, which in turn is often confused with the Yosemite Valley Lodge©). The signs now say Half Dome Village, though I’ve yet to meet a park resident who calls it anything but Curry. Why am I here? I’m tempted to answer in glib, flippant, twisted Cartesian logic–because I think I’m here–but the informative answer is that we are Yosemite’s newest Climbing Stewards, volunteers working as para-rangers under the tutelage and supervision of the unsung granite ninja, Eric Bissell. We’re 3 weeks into a 15-week stint in the Park. Bridge shifts are our main responsibility. Every day from 12:30-4:30pm, we set up telescopes and informational boards at the El Capitan Bridge, and invite tourists to “Ask a Climber.” Truth is, I enjoy these shifts. We stand in the shade and talk about our favorite activity, punctuated by dips in the Merced river. Sometimes, climbing celebrities show up, or climbers who’ve just returned from a big wall. The other day I watched someone lead the Great Roof through a telescope. We naturally get the same several questions several times a day – How long does it take? Do you need a permit? Is this the one that free climber did in 4 hours? How do I get back to my car? – and trying to describe where on the wall the telescope is actually pointed can get tiresome, but these are the only…

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A Jumbo Passion Project

By | Bolt Clipping, Climbing, Film, Food for thought | 3 Comments

The climber, facing away from the wall, gingerly peers over his toes to watch his sky-blue T-shirt flutter to the ground. He takes a deep breath, then turns in place on the 4-inch ledge on which he’s been standing. Now facing the wall, he unclips from the anchor and begins a precarious rightward traverse. 15 delicate feet later, he clips the rope into a quickdraw more in line with the rest of the bolts. He draws another deep breath, and pulls into the start of a 110-foot long roof. So begins my absolute favorite segment of climbing footage. It doesn’t evoke the adrenalized, finger-tingling, animalistic urge to grab something overhead and freakin’ pull down like most videos of hard climbers climbing hard. It’s more like a good surf film, in which a fragile human is calm and poised amidst the violence and chaos of forces we can’t comprehend. It’s simultaneously serene and exciting, and I can’t look away. He’s nearly horizontal, but his face is completely relaxed. He doesn’t seem to be climbing so much as gliding between ripples in gravity’s field, now relaxing and taking a breath as the next hold makes its way to his hand. He is a virtuoso and the rock is his sheet music. We don’t listen to the notes, we feel the movement swell. The camera follows the climber, uninterrupted, for about 30 minutes. I’ve watched it countless times, and on every occasion I feel transported by the rapture of a perfected performance. It features a…

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The CIA, Affirmative Action, and a #&@% Video Shop

By | Adventure, Film, Musings | No Comments

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a video shop in Isla Vista, CA that catered to the students at UC Santa Barbara. It was called @*&# Video Shop and Climbing Boutique, was owned and managed by Steve Edwards, and served as the de facto epicenter of a nascent Santa Barbara climbing community. It was a time before the ubiquity of cameras, which presents a challenge: Steve’s video shop is a central element in the story, but we have almost no footage or photos from the interior. It will be difficult, even with several people’s descriptions, to get the special quirkiness of the place across. In our interviews, several people have mentioned the ads that Steve put in the Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student newspaper. I popped over to the Nexus archives yesterday to look for these ads, of which I found a couple, and I had a somewhat mind-bending experience, leafing through yellowed, ancient copies of a paper that I used to read daily. I found that, in some ways, nothing’s changed. In some ways, the world is a very different place. Mostly, I found that flipping through 8 months of newspaper headlines in 2 hours is a very disorienting experience. This was all before the internet delivered everything. It’s pretty wild to think about the ways in which the classic video shops of the 80s and 90s are obsolete. VHS tapes, the “adult” section behind the curtains, underemployed young people discussing cinema. Instead, we now have streaming…

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Do We Even Climb, Bro?

By | Adventure, Climbing, Trip Journal | No Comments

I could’ve sworn this was going to be a climbing blog… Way back when, it was all we wanted to do. Now it feels like, when we write, it’s about bullshit, injuries, or not climbing in world-class destinations. We still live on the road (mostly) and we still climb, it’s just different now. I’d say we’re transitioning into a more mature relationship with climbing. For one, the injury thing is a big thing. I don’t mind a fun run up an easy route, but I have trouble staying motivated if I’m not feeling continuous improvements in strength or technique. To paraphrase Wolfgang Gullich, the trouble with getting strong is that it’s easy. Getting strong and staying healthy is, as they say in Spain, the dura dura. What this means is, our shoulders are niggling, so I’m taking it back to the basics and doing a round of the Workout From Hell. Vikki’s doing PT, and she wrote a great series of blog posts for Touchstone’s blog detailing her shoulder-journey, soon to be published. We feel much better, although it sucks to think that we’ll always be “injured.” For two, the month of March was total madness. Las Vegas > Bay > Eugene > Portland > Bay > Santa Barbara > Las Vegas > Salt Lake City > Ketchum, ID > Bay > Santa Barbara. All by car (thanks, mom, for letting us borrow the Prius, saving tons of monies! Incidentally, I can’t wait to drive the F-250 right up to the Keystone…

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