Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Day at Red Rocks

December 31, 2012 – Jan 1, 2013

Picture of Katie.

Katie admires the view.

For our final day of climbing, we drove through the Mojave Desert and into Nevada to Red Rock Canyon, which is a National Conservation Area near Las Vegas. Before we even got to the wall, we took in the stunning natural beauty all around us with sweeping vistas and multi-colored rock formations. We wanted to climb on Iron Man Wall, which had only been bolted within the last few years, so it wasn't in the guidebook yet and proved difficult to find. But eventually we did find it and put up a few nice climbs, including Ferrous Wheel, which has a 5.10d overhang and was among my favorite named routes of the trip.

There's a strange rule within the scenic loop we were climbing on that everyone has to be out by 5:00 PM or get a big fine. There's a number you can call to ask for permission to stay later, but we couldn't get through. Because we still had to pack everything up, walk for half an hour to the car, and drive more than ten miles through the loop, we had to stop climbing at 4:00. It was one of our lightest days of climbing, but after nine straight days, I didn't mind too much.

The walk out and subsequent drive around the loop gave us some more amazing views, and I found out that there are over 1000 climbs in Red Rock Canyon, some of which are 2000 feet high. One day was definitely not enough time to visit, so I'll have to come back someday. Even if you don't climb, it's a great side trip if you're in Las Vegas, and one that I think gets overlooked often.

After dinner we began the long drive home. This time there wasn't much ice or snow to deal with, so the drive went quicker. After thirty short hours we were back in Madison. We rang in the new year somewhere in Utah and got to hear the Badgers lose the Rose Bowl along the way. It's easy to summarize this trip by saying: Lots Of Climbing. But I think it was also about constantly meeting new people, some of whom I'm sure I'll be in touch with years from now. It only lasted eleven days, but I still think I'll be talking about this trip for a long time.

Many of the photos of the trip were from Gokul's and Zoey's cameras. Thanks for sharing your pictures!

Photos from Red Rocks

Joshua Tree National Park

December 27-30, 2012

Picture of Joshua trees.

The landscape of Joshua Tree National Park.

Freshly showered and with a clean set of clothes, we were joined by Josh, Jonah, and Chris in our drive across Los Angeles and up to Joshua Tree National park. Before we even reached the park, we were surrounded by spiky and curvy Joshua trees, which resembled the trees from Dr. Seuss's Lorax. We drove to the middle of the park and spent our first day at Freeway Wall, which proved problematic from the start. Not wanting to carry everything with me, I left my main backpack at the bottom of the climb and walked up with my camera, climbing equipment, and due to some lapse of judgment, enough food for a three-course meal for ten. Both of my hands were occupied with carrying this stuff, and unlike the previous few days, getting to the top was a challenging climb in its own right. Gokul set up a top rope, but it was very windy and rappelling required a tricky down-climb completely exposed, so I opted to walk back down.

On the way down, I stood on the top of a fifteen-foot boulder wondering how I was able to climb up it. I was about to try and slide down when I heard a reverberating sound like a helicopter whose blades were moving at one-tenth their normal speed. It was such a foreign noise that I thought this is the noise you hear right before you die. I looked at the boulders some more, discovered a better way down, and made it to the bottom, safe but exhausted even though I hadn't officially climbed yet. Then I looked up at the other side of the wall and understood what the helicopter noise really was: a group of professional highliners (here's their website) was testing the tension in their line. They later gave us a show, walking back and forth between two cliffs on an inch of webbing.

When I knocked on the rock and heard a hollow noise at the beginning of my climb, I knew it would be scary. The whole way up, little flakes broke off and trickled to the ground. Then when I was close to 100 feet up, my foothold broke and send a rock the size of a softball hurling toward the ground. I screamed “ROCK” multiple times and hoped Katie, who was belaying me, could avoid it. The rocked bounced around like a game of Plinko and crashed against the ground about three feet from her. It was a scary day and I was just glad to make it back to the cars without any injuries.

Picture of climbers.

Climbing the Freeway Wall.

Our group campsite was in an amazing location with giant boulders all over the place. But we didn't get there until nighttime, and Josh found out the hard way what can happen when you borrow a tent. The zipper didn't work, the poles were either too short or nonexistent, and the fly was missing. Even if the tent remained standing, the boys were bound to freeze in the cold desert night, but Gokul came to the rescue. He covered the mesh windows with his four-season North Face tent and used a series of ropes and carabiners to secure the new Frankentent. The temperature dropped below freezing at night, but everyone appeared well in the morning with no blackened digits. Gokul was the glue that held the entire trip together.

The next day we climbed at Echo Rock, a massive friction slab. We don't have a lot of friction slab in Wisconsin so I had very little experience on it, but the basic description is that the wall is leaning forward and there aren't many big holds, so you just have to get as much of your shoes' surface area against the wall as possible and hope they don't slip. I led a route called Double Dip, which was rated 5.6 (easy), but was terrifying because I constantly felt like I was going to fall off. After clipping the fourth bolt, I looked up and saw that the next bolt was about twenty feet up, which meant that I could take a forty-foot fall. There was probably little chance of me actually falling there, but clipping the next bolt was among the most terrifying things I've done as a climber. I had less than the first knuckle of each finger of my left hand holding the wall while I made the clip. Later, a more experienced climber ran up the same route about three times faster than me, so maybe I was overreacting, but still.

Meanwhile, Gokul, Zoey, and Josh had fun with a multi-pitch trad climb on the other side of the wall, which amped Gokul up for a bigger multi-pitch route in the following days.

Picture of Gokul.

Gokul leading on Thin Wall.

The next day we went to Thin Wall, which was a shorter top-rope wall with lots of easy-to-moderate routes (5.8-5.10a) in the center of one of the park's main hiking trails. During our hike to the wall, we passed a guy free-soloing a route called Ball Bearing (5.10a) and bit our fingernails until he made it to the top. Setup was far easier this time, and the climbs were a lot of fun. Josh, Jonah, and Chris took off in the afternoon and the rest of us got some good work bouldering near the parking lot. We didn't even get the names of the problems we were on, but with hundreds of boulders scattered around the area, we decided to just have fun and spare the details.

For our final day in the park, Gokul, Zoey, Katie, and I decided on a new challenge: a 350-foot climb that can be done in 3-4 pitches. With Gokul as our only trad leader, we knew we were going to be inefficient, but we still wanted to give it a try. Gokul led the first pitch on double ropes, then brought Katie and Zoey up to the anchor. This took a long time, and by the time it was my turn to come up, we could see some bad weather coming in from the distance. We knew it would take several more hours to finish the climb, and with the storm approaching quickly, we decided to bail after I got to the anchor.

By the time we all got to the ground, it was starting to snow on us. I kept thinking I left Wisconsin and came to California for this? We made our way back to the car and saw the highliners again. They were toughing it out in the snow, but were having a hard time standing on the webbing in their bare feet. We drove out of the park in a full-on blizzard, with people stopping their cars every few hundred feet to take pictures. So my final memory of the park was seeing a field of snow-covered Joshua trees.

Photos from Joshua Tree National Park

Climbing with the Cardashians

December 25-26, 2012

Picture of Dan Climbing.

Climbing on the beach.

Reinvigorated from our two days at New Jack City, Zoey, Gokul, and I drove over the Cajon Pass between the San Bernadino and San Gabriel mountain ranges, and into Los Angeles. Even though the drive across the city was ninety miles (the city is ridiculously spread out), the fact that it was Christmas Day helped us to avoid the world-famous traffic.

We met up with Josh from Madison's mountaineering club and his friend Blake and hiked into Malibu Creek State Park. We settled on climbing the Planet of the Apes wall, which was near where the movie was filmed. It was a great wall for top-rope climbing with easy access to the anchors on top. The rock itself was covered in huecos which provided plenty of challenging routes. And the park was a scenic place close to the city's main population.

We spent the night at Josh's home. His parents Robin and Larry were gracious hosts and it was really nice to take a shower in the middle of the trip. I was very thankful for their hospitality.

The next day Josh and Tori joined us for a some climbing at Point Dume in Malibu. When I dipped my toes into the ocean, I could officially call this a trip to the West Coast. The climbing itself wasn't as great as the previous few days, but you couldn't beat the location. Afterward we took the Pacific Coast Highway and saw some nice homes including where the Kardishans used to live. And the nicest homes we couldn't even see because they were so well barricaded.

We rounded out the day at my mom's apartment in Pasadena. My girlfriend Katie was waiting for us there and she had quite the story of her flight getting delayed by blizzards and whatnot while I was relaxing on the beach. We walked around town and got caught up while checking out the street where the Rose Bowl parade would take place in a few days. We rounded out our time in LA in style with a chicken grill and relaxation in the hot tub. Despite climbing for four days straight, I felt totally refreshed for the upcoming portion of our trip in Joshua Tree National Park.

Photos from Malibu Creek State Park
Photos from Point Dume
Photos from Pasadena

New Jack City

December 23-24, 2012

Picture of Dan climbing..

Scouting out the wall.

After thirty-six hours of driving with only a short break in Colorado, we arrived in New Jack City, near Barstow, California. I set up my tent and was happy with our decision to skip Moab because we had two full days of climbing ahead of us without having to drive or take down camp.

New Jack City isn't a city at all. It's a sport climbing area of metamorphic basalt rock a few hours outside of Los Angeles. There are no houses in New Jack City and the only semi-permanent resident is the camp host who works for the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Camping is free and while I imagine the high desert of southern California is oppressively hot during the summer, we were blessed with temperatures in the fifties during the day when we were there.

A friend of Gokul's named Tony drove up from L.A., and we were ready to climb by late morning. But first we spent a lot of time walking around and checking out the interesting rock formations, eventually settling on a wall nicknamed “Grandpa Simpson.” I was really happy to be climbing outdoors, and even wandering aimlessly through the park felt great after a long drive. We climbed until dusk and had a nice pasta dinner at our campsite.

We spent the next day climbing at Boy Scout Wall, which was only a five-minute walk from camp. We climbed routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.10a, which is right in the range I feel comfortable lead-climbing in. It was another fun day capped off by a slightly scary climb by headlamp in the dark. I spent quite a while trying to work up the guts to go for a bolt that was twelve feet above me without being able to see the rock very well, but then I noticed another bolt only six feet up and was relieved to have the good protection (12 feet between bolts means a potential 24-foot fall). I didn't know yet that many of our future climbs would be bolted much more sporadically, sometimes with twenty feet of separation.

Picture of rainbow.

Lady Rainicorn.

It was Christmas Eve, and two of our fellow climbers named Julie and Michael invited us to their pop-up camper for drinks. A wave of heat blasted us when we walked inside, and we got a tour of the king-size beds, kitchen, and dining areas. At this point in my life I wouldn't want to haul a camper around the country, but I will admit it was nice being in the relative luxury of a heated environment with abundant lighting and plenty of space. Michael and Julie were wonderful hosts and we enjoyed several hours of engaging conversation with them, making New Jack City a memorable part of this trip.

More photos from New Jack City

The End of the World?

December 21-22, 2012

Picture of Zoey, Gokul, and Dan.

On Sugarloaf Mountain.

The Mayans supposedly predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. The world may not have ended, but it sure felt like it. It had been nearly forty-eight hours since the snow had stopped falling, and I had only ventured outside once to take in the carnage. A huge tree branch had fallen in the front yard; many other trees and power lines were down in the neighborhood. Many people were busy shoveling their sidewalks and driveways, and the streets were still covered with snow and ice. That much was expected, but I figured at least the freeways would be clear for our upcoming trip to California.

Gokul picked me up a few hours into the night, and we threw a ton of climbing gear into the back of his Outback wagon. We picked up Zoey from the bus station, and were on our way. The car seemed full, yet we knew we'd have to squeeze in a fourth person for the long drive home. While filling up the gas tank on our way out of town, a lady begged us to jump-start her car. It took a good ten minutes to get her engine to turn over, during which time she made it clear to us that her battery had been going dead for the last few months and she had never bothered to replace it. We were hoping for some serious road karma after our good Samaritanism.

Gokul drove the first few hours through Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa. Ice covered the right lane most of the way, but the left lane remained clear and we were able to drive at sixty-five for the most part. I took over after Dubuque in light traffic and stole many glances at the waxing gibbous moon while listening to a book where the author explained how much trouble NASA went through to put a flag on the moon. Every now and then I passed a car in the ditch, which was always a ghostly snow-covered sight.

As we approached De Moines, the road got significantly worse. Ice was packed onto both lanes and I slowed to about thirty MPH. The frequency of cars in the ditch went from one every five miles or so, to one per mile, to ten per mile. Eventually it was impossible not to see at least one car off the road at any given time. Semis, too – they were jack-knifed in the emergency lane, on their side in the median, and one trailer even looked like it had exploded. I had never seen such carnage and was terrified of becoming part of it – with so many other cars in the ditch, it would take days for us to get out. Traffic was light at 3:00 AM, but soon cars got bunched together and there was always that brave/stupid soul who would attempt to pass everyone on the really icy lane. The rest of us kept our hazards on and tried to stay on the road.

It took over two hours to get outside the city limits and I needed a mental break. My fingers were sore from gripping the steering wheel so hard. Later we would read the reports of seven-hour traffic jam delays around De Moines during the worst of the storm. I didn't keep track of how many cars I had seen in the ditch, but I'm sure it was at least 400. Plus 30 semis. I was surprised any cars were still running by the end of it. We had fallen several hours behind schedule, but were glad to get out unscathed. Gokul took the wheel back and soon was able to drive the speed limit, but there were still occasional patches of ice in the road. He was always prepared for the slippery parts, though, because there was always a car in the ditch as a warning signal to slow down.

Picture of Zoey.

Zoey navigates.

We spent most of our daylight hours driving through Nebraska, the state that never seems to end. But finally we were in Colorado and decided to stop in Boulder a couple hours before sunset. There wasn't enough time left for the climb Gokul wanted to attempt, so we settled for a walk to the top of Sugarloaf Mounatin, which was 9633 feet high and gave us a great view of the Front Range of the Rockies and got our blood moving in anticipation of things to come.

I took over after we got through Denver and was rewarded for the previous night's white-knuckle experience with a drive through the Rockies past towns like Breckenridge and Vail. There were some steep uphill and downhill grades, and I was amused by a sign urging drivers who had lost their brakes not to exit the freeway at the bottom of the hill. That seemed like obvious advice, but there wouldn't be a sign if someone hadn't already done it. It was my first time above 10,000 feet in nearly five years, so it felt great to be in the mountains, if only for a bit.

Our plan was to camp near Moab, Utah and spend the next day climbing, but that didn't work out. It was after midnight by the time we go there, and it was only twelve degrees outside, much colder than the forecast had predicted. It wouldn't get warm enough for us to climb the next day, so we'd have to settle for some more hiking followed by an overnight drive to California. The decision to skip Moab was easy in that context, so we pressed on and drove through the rest of Utah, a tiny corner of Arizona, and Nevada. After barely seeing anything for hours, I was amazed when Gokul woke me up and I saw the shimmering lights of Las Vegas from miles away. You never get to see towns for twenty minutes before reaching them on Wisconsin's freeways, so this was a mind-blowing experience, and a signal that our drive out west was nearly complete.

Click for more photos of the trip.