Friday, April 11, 2008

Operation Oman

“Uh… where’s Oman?” I asked ignorantly.

“On the Arabian Peninsula” JT answered.

I was too embarrassed to ask where that was. I’ve traveled to more than 30 countries, but still my geography lacks. Which is why I suppose I appreciate travel so much. I wouldn’t be bothered to learn about far off places unless I was to go there and see for myself.

Preparing myself mentally for JT’s next fervent scheme that would send us off to some obscure, far-flung corner of the globe few people have ever heard of—and fewer still have ever visited for climbing, I forced a look of enthusiasm and said that, sure, I would go to Oman.

As usual, I agree to go to these places with JT before I actually know anything about them. Examples: Adrspach in Czech Republic (scary traditional chalk-less climbing on sandstone spires using only knotted cords for protection), Stolby near Krasnoyarsk, Siberia (free soloing en masse with locals 450 feet off the deck on greasy 5.9 slabs). Not your typical relaxing vacation, which I have to admit is exactly what I’m looking.

Once the plan is hatched, JT does all the research. He gets maps, makes local contacts and attempts to get some beta on the existing and/or potential new climbing. I do little but secure the financial support, figure out the airport code (Krasnoyarsk is KJA, just in case you were wondering), and book the tickets. Then, until we leave, when people inquire about what big trip we are going on next, I fake like I have a clue.

“So, where are you off to next?” Someone at the tradeshow will ask.

Oman” I boast.

“Where’s Oman?” they, of course, quickly counter.

I answer with the only bit of information I have memorized, “Arabian Peninsula.” I mumble the words, mortified that I might possibly mispronounce “Arabian.”

Beyond knowing the name of the landmass, I find out that the country is Muslim, which means I’ll need to pack long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, scarves, no shorts, and a 1.75 liter jug of tequila.

Only once we are on the plane, do I attempt to educate myself by pulling out the Lonely Planet guide or scan through JT’s stack of notes and topos. First things first: I find Oman on the map. It’s bordered by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Oooh, and there’s a coastline, which means the beach!

JT has all the climbing info sussed out, which frees me to focus on other important facets of our trip, primarily the shopping. Each time we travel to an international destination I figure out what commodities the country is known for, so I know what to buy as soon as I get there. Oman is famous for gold, frankincense and copper.

Then I read up on lifestyle. “Within the living memory of most middle-aged people outside of Muscat, traveling to the next village used to mean hopping on a donkey or bicycle, education meant reciting the Quran under a tree and medication comprised of a few herbs from the mountainsides.”

Because I’m fascinated by religion, I always study this. I learn that 75% of Omanis follow the Ibadi sect of Islam, an austere form of Islam that eschews decadence of any kind. Oh, boy. I stress that they will hate Americans, who generally embody the term decadence. I contemplate what climbing is—decadent or merely frivolous? This thought, and 3 mg of Lunesta, carries me to sleep. I wake up eight hours later, the Lonely Planet book still in my lap, the flight attendants scurrying down the aisles serving breakfast.

No matter how often I travel overseas, I always feel anxious as I look out the window at the landscape of where we will soon land. It’s dawn and our 16-hour flight from New York to Oman is nearly over. JT presses his face next to mine to get a look out the window.

“Cool! A sunrise over Iran,” he excitedly says, noting that the adventure has officially begun.

This is the first of a three part series on my travel this past February to Oman.

The next installment will be “Goat for a Rope at the Hibshe Oasis”

Monday, January 14, 2008


I’ve moved four times in the past 18 months. I’m not talking about moving in the sense of loading up my van and switching crags, like the good old days. When everything I owned had its own crate and tucked neatly under the DIY bed in the back of the van, and it was as simple as securing anything that could kill you in a sudden stop, paying for old laundry or camping tabs, picking up bottle tops and garlic skins around the camp, filling up water jugs and the gas tank, and hitting the road for the next crag in season. No, the move I’m referring to is not like that at all.

Over the past few years, I’ve acquired more and more belongings. It started out small—my stuff in a friend’s basement and sleeping in the spare bedroom on a borrowed futon to a yurt in Colorado. Then it was a townhouse in Carbondale to a rental house in Salt Lake City, and now, the BIG ONE: a three-bedroom house with a mortgage.

You might think it’s moving the big stuff around that irks me. Like the new, and first in my life, big grown-up bed. It is one of those fancy Tempurpedic things that weighs a ton and cost more than my van did. Or maybe it’s the antique oak desk that I’ve had since college that has been actually Fed-Ex’ed to me twice. No, it’s the peculiar things such as: the same can of vegetarian refried beans that doesn’t expire until Jan. 2010, a Costco brand bottle of Glucosamine Sulfate, a dozen random, chipped coffee mugs I never use, a value-sized tube of No Ad sunscreen, or the $250 pair of size 26 leather jeans I will never fit into again and only wore once. These are things I can live without, but can’t seem to get rid of each time I move.

The “Things I rarely use and I am sick of moving, which I would like to get rid of but cannot because I will someday inevitably need them” are: boxes of tax returns, chains for my truck, aid climbing gear, iPod warranty and original packaging, 6/4 wetsuit, and a bridesmaid dress and black pumps.

Then there are the things that although I seldom touch, look at or think about, I cannot live without. A note, scrawled in a five-year-olds handwriting on faded-brown lined paper my little sister wrote me for my 16th birthday, my heart rock collection, the flute I played in grade school, a red lacquered fake diamond turtle pin my grandmother bought me from K-mart when I was four, my first (and only) climbing journal, a poem a boy wrote me in Jr. High, my college student I.D., and a tacky southwestern-patterned fleece jacket my mother (who no doubt got it from the Sundance outlet) gave me for Christmas the year I moved out west from Iowa.

Considering all the moving around I’ve done for the greater part of my adult life, it’s a wonder I have been able to keep track of much more than my passport and proof of car insurance.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sandstone Drama

A four-mile 4x4 road literally dead-ends at the rim of the canyon. The view is outstanding—sprouting from the valley floor poke the twin towers of Crow’s Head Spires, as the West Shafer Canyon spills out before you for miles, reaching deep into Canyonlands National Park. The rarely climbed Crow’s Head Spires are less than four hundred yards away from the edge of the rim, but to reach their base requires a 450-foot rappel down vertical Wingate from the end of the road.

On Thanksgiving Day, Jonathan and I climbed the left tower, Don Juan Spire, by the route, Yesterday’s News Variation—5.10, two stars. The plan was to have JT lead the crux second pitch since the description read, “Climb the offwidth to easier OW…” In my opinion, there is no such thing as easy offwidth, let alone an “easier OW.” Plus, JT forgot to pack the essential #5 Camalot, so it was his punishment. But because I got lost on the first pitch and couldn’t deal with the ensuing rope drag, I didn’t make it to the first belay and ended up with the lead for the OW pitch. The pitch started with an unprotected 5.9 traverse for 20 feet on brittle, flaky crimps right off the belay. This was not the scary part. Easy hand jamming led to the OW. With my last piece of gear at my feet, I headed up the wide crack. After five feet, I made a futile effort to place the #4 Camalot. It wasn’t even close to fitting. Seeing that the crack only widened, I didn’t try again. Because it was such an obvious thing to be upset about and I knew he felt badly about it, I didn’t actually scream at JT for forgetting the #5. Instead I grappled on, trying not to think about the ledge below me that I would hit if I fell. I was out of JT’s sight and all alone with my battle. It was one of those rare moments I personally experience in climbing when things are so bad, that it is impossible to consider them. As a result, I was uncharacteristically calm and quiet and completed the task without drama. When JT reached the belay he was impressed with my 20-foot OW run-out. He said he would have for sure backed off. I wanted to at one point, as summits aren’t very important to me. JT has climbed nearly 50 desert towers. Summits are very important to him.

Despite the typical nuisances of desert tower climbing (i.e., loose rock, difficult route finding, and bad anchors), the route on Don Juan Spire was quite good. It was given two stars, so I naively expected the same out of the similarly graded Lizard Action, on the sister tower, Luminous Being Spire. Not so much.

It started out bad—really bad. I backed off two different first pitch variations because of loose rock, or lack of proper gear (yes, the forgotten #5 Camalot). I managed to lead a meager 100 feet off the ground, gave up, and put in a belay. JT then led an equally chossy, but much more difficult pitch up a super loose chimney and corner. It was so bad that at one point I heard him say from around the corner, “Uh… this is a significant situation. If you hear a lot of rockfall, don’t freak out… it’s just because everything I’m standing on just shifted.” I was so pissed and scared following this pitch that I bitched the entire time, screaming obscenities and things like, “This is bullshit! We are going to bail… it’s not worth it!” When I got to the belay and saw JT’s conflicted expression: He loves this tower choss shit, but hates to see me stressed. I knew I couldn’t force us to bail. We were only 130 feet from the top. I took the rack.

I set off, jamming the stout, 15-foot crack off the belay, but broke a hold on easier ground and whipped, nearly landing on JT’s head. Great. I went back up, got to the base of a dirty, disgusting wide crack and said forget it. I was over it. I down-led 10 feet and was prepared to go all the way back to the belay, but then thought about JT again. “Alright, I’ll try another way,” I told myself. I climbed a farther right line, through better, though still crappy, rock to a small ledge. I saw a drilled pin higher up, but couldn’t help worrying about the ledge that I would hit if I fell before getting the pin clipped. I saw JT’s eager (but still concerned) face and clawed the soft, eroding, sandstone slopers for 10 feet and clipped the pin. And then what? There was nothing but sandy slopers and crumbly edges. “Take!” I couldn’t handle it any more. I hung on the end of the rope and shook from the cold and the stress. Before conceding once again, I took out the route description JT had printed from Mountain Project. It read, “Move left to a drilled pin, move up and left to the arĂȘte and another drilled pin and an alcove/roof. Place as much shit gear as possible (I had 5 equalized pieces that wouldn’t have held a fall). Relax. Make final moves to the anchor.” I was definitely coming down now. I was again out of JT’s sight, but could imagine him holding me on the rope, worried. Shit, ok, one more try. I unweighted the rope and climbed left. No pin. I hung on the rope again. “There’s nothing to the left!” I shrieked. “Then it must be right.” JT’s small voice came from below. I went right and did finally see it, but it was still 20 feet above me. Again, the thought of hitting the ledge vaporized and I methodically climbed the slabby face to the higher pin. 20 more feet to the top. After coping with rope drag, more runouts, and route finding, I beached myself on the summit.

“Off Belay!” I thankfully called down.

JT had been patiently belaying me for nearly two hours in the freezing, shady cold. I would have been hollering like my head was on fire, but not him. Although he followed the pitch with composure, I knew he was suffering big time from frozen hands. He enthusiastically stood atop the summit, which was technically 10 feet above my belay. I couldn’t be bothered. I was more concerned with getting back to the ground and safely up the 450-foot jug and haul back to the.

There were two anchors on the summit and I wanted to use a different (better) anchor than the one the guide described for the rappel. The tower was 250 feet, and I illogically figured we could make it to the ground in one double-rope rappel. JT, sensing I was in no mood for an argument, reluctantly threaded the ropes through the rap rings. I insisted on going first. After rapping for about 100 feet, I could see the ends of the ropes swinging in midair, 50 feet from the ground. Damnit! Two feet from the ends of the ropes, I swung into a shallow chimney, plugged in two big cams and clipped myself off to them. I screamed up to JT the situation and he started to rappel.

On a ledge, 50 feet above me, JT said evenly, “Why didn’t you stop at these anchors?”

“Because I obviously didn’t see them!” I snapped in a super bitchy tone, annoyed that I had somehow missed the rap anchor.

As if JT had never been involved in a rappelling epic on a tower, I screamed the obvious, “Pull the ropes, thread that anchor, and we’ll both make it to the ground from there.”

I could hear JT struggling with the pull.

“It won’t pull… the knot is stuck at the lip.” He calmly shouted down.

I thought fast and yelled up, “Fix the rest of the tag line (I had the end of it in my hand) to that anchor, cut as much of the lead line as you can, rap to me on the tag with the piece of lead line, and we can fix that from these cams to the ground.” I screamed up with self-appointed authority.

“No way… I’ll up-rap to the knot and free it.” He dared to answer.

“Forget it, it is getting late and I want to get out of here!” I yelled. “We have dozens of ropes… it’s not worth the risk!”

“No I’ll up-rap real quick,” he explained. “I don’t want to leave ropes littering the tower.”

“I don’t give a shit what you think! I want to get the hell out of here NOW! Leave the ropes! We have 100s of ropes!” I was out of my mind with fear and frustration. I also was so afraid of JT up-raping the scary thin tag line and it cutting. I was completely overcome with the ghastly vision of his body hurling past me and exploding 50 feet below where I helplessly hung. JT wasn’t going to leave the ropes, though, and quickly set off, up-rapping the 150 feet back to the stuck knot.

“I will never climb with you again you shithead jackass unless you leave the goddamn mother-fucking ropes!” I sobbed in a crazed, insane, hysterical voice. “We have millions of ropes!” (I’m certain I have never behaved this badly in my life.)

“It’s okay baby, don’t yell at me, I’m almost to the knot.” He said in an assuring, yet ineffective manner.

“Screw you! I’m going to unclip and down climb to the ground! I can’t deal with this anymore!”

“Don’t do that baby… that’s too dangerous.” He cooed.

Poor guy, not only did he have a rappel epic to contend with, he now had a mental case to counsel. I didn’t unclip, instead, I waited for what seemed an eternity for JT to free the knot, rap back down to his anchors, re-pull the ropes, until finally both ends of the ropes reached the ground.

We didn’t talk to each other much as JT coiled the ropes and we walked back to the jug out. As I jugged and hauled more than my share (I was feeling extremely guilty for how I acted), I thought about how climbing can bring out the very best of you and the very worst. And that although the thought of losing the person you love most can make you insane, one of the bonuses in loving that someone, is learning to become a better human being by that person’s example.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Everything I Know I Learned from Sue McDevitt

There aren’t too many memories I retain from when I very first learned to climb 15 years ago. One, exceptionally vivid memory is of sitting on the pot, reading a Climbing magazine article and being completely captivated by a cover feature about Sue McDevitt. WHY? She lived in the Valley, did big walls and climbed cracks. She seemed so bad ass. Fast forward five years, I was at the tradeshow and met Sue at the Black Diamond booth. I cheekily introduced myself and announced, trying desperately to sound cool, that I was “coming to the Valley.” She unpretentiously offered that I call her when I was there.

The next day, as I packed my van in the driveway, my boyfriend nervously asked what I was doing. When I told him I was going to the Valley, he shrugged and mumbled something about discussing it first with him. Sue invited me to come climb with her and I wasn’t going to let a single unnecessary second pass before I got there. Eighteen hours later, I was enjoying a glass of red wine with Sue McDevitt—the Sue McDevitt.

Problem was, despite the fact that I had aspired to climb the famed routes of Yosemite and I was a solid 5.12 sport climber, I had only led three gear pitches in my life. The next day we were on the Rostrum. I was too intimidated to confess the truth, so I took the rack pitch after pitch, gulped at each placement and managed to do the route. Although she has never admitted it, I’m certain she sensed my inadequacies and steered me accordingly. Throughout the next month we climbed nearly every day, long free routes and my first real wall route, sharing a single portaledge, eating beans straight from the can and sipping carefully measured out tequila from a Nalgene. She shared stories from her early days in the Valley, climbing with the various partners and subsequent epics, which included getting benighted on the route, a forced bivy in a tree and her partner, another girl, peeing her pants during the night.

Sure, Sue taught me how to how to trad climb, aid climb, and how to rack, but more importantly, she taught me lessons that have guided me throughout my life as a climber:

How to tolerate guests--Whenever I am tempted to freak out on dossing dirtbags in my house, I remember that I lived at Sue’s for TWO months and never once did she vibe me for leaving a dish in the sink or drinking the last beer.

How to trust your husband--When Sue was out of town, Dan, her husband, and I slept in the same portaledge for five nights on El Cap. Now, if a tinge of jealousy creeps in when my boyfriend volunteers to spot a young hottie, I let it go.

How to raise a child--In today’s world of overbearing, overprotective and inattentive parenting, it is refreshing to see Maykala, now eight, thrive despite being raised at the crag, running feral, playing naked in the garden and sampling Fancy Feast cat food. Plus, she’s an exceptional artist and can do a one arm. Seriously.

Other lessons include: How to be humble… how to drink a bottle of wine and still get up the next morning to climb Astroman… how to make incredible pasta sauce, how to build an outside shower, how to outright own two properties in California, one with 40 acres and one 15 miles from Yosemite, building the homes with bare hands—all the while maintaining “the life of a climbing bum.”

More than eight years have gone by since those early days spent with Sue. I had let five years pass without climbing with her at all. Now, she is a mother and I have multiple jobs and my enthusiasm for the Valley has waned. But it really isn’t so simple to blame my lax attitude with the Valley and spending time with her on that. It is much more nostalgic. God willing, we all experience “The Glory Days”—whether it occurs in high school, college or, in my case, the beginnings as a well-rounded climber. What made those times so meaningful then and so bittersweet now is the very fact that they were so extraordinary and seminal. Maybe I’m not really avoiding her because I’m afraid of things not being the same, but more out of respect that they won’t. So many times, as an itinerant climber, you connect with exceptional people, have amazing times with them, say good-bye and NEVER see or hear from them again. I guess that is what separates Sue from the mundanely special.

There are important lessons one learns from being a climber that directly apply to life. Many of these values I acquired from Sue.

Monday, September 17, 2007


“It’s a shirt.” I contested.

“Ma’am, remove your jacket.” He said, again. I wondered what kind of mark on my already marred TSA record would result in calling a security agent a pervert.

I stood half naked in a sports bra. Unflappable, he gestured toward my feet.

“Your shoes” he said flatly.

Now I was pissed.

“They’re flip-flops!” I spat, unable to hold my tongue.

“Ma’am, please step over there”

He pointed to the enclosed glass corral for problem passengers.

“Female assist!” He hollered.

Now I was screwed.

I waited in the black plastic chair, flip-flops obediently placed in the outline of feet in front of me.

Now I was late.

Eventually, the woman with the wand waddled up and looked down her nose at my feet. They were filthy from a week spent in the dirt at Tahquitz.

BEEP! The wand responded as she waved it over my right foot, detecting the twelve screws and metal plate. I pointed out the six-inch surgical scar and after considerable consideration, she released me.

“Have a nice day (delay)”

I grabbed my laptop and Ipod, and leapt into a sprint toward terminal 8, gate 88.

A gap opened up ahead. In haste, I went for the hole shot and stepped in the puddle of spilled smoothie everyone else was avoiding. The sticky residue produced a rhythmic crackling sound each time my foot lifted from the floor. My breaths came in open-mouthed gasps as I raced to the beat of slap, flip, slap, crackle, flip; slap, flip, slap, crackle, flip. I imagined O.J. Simpson. My left arm, which clutched my laptop, pumped faster. I hurdled the outstretched power cord of a charging cell phone. I overtook a portly bike cop on a straightaway. I disruptively burst through the line at Starbucks.

At the end of the terminal, the bouncing, illuminated vision of ‘GATE 88’ grew larger.

As the last confirmed passenger to board, I collapsed into seat 34C. Ironically, I was still only wearing my sports bra.

Trade Show Mania

Feeling a slightly uneasy nostalgia, I entered the Salt Palace the Monday before the tradeshow. The lights were dim, crates were scattered everywhere, heavy machinery beeped and competing boom boxes scratched out every genre of music.

I’ve been to eighteen Outdoor Retailers. I’ve arrived in planes, box vans, Uhauls, a 1976 RV, and countless road trip vehicles. This time, however, I drove my own vehicle the ten blocks from my house. That’s right, after all the years of dissin’ Salt Lake, I now live here.

I self elected myself to design and take charge of the AAC booth for this show. My vision was to erect a mini library. One of the greatest assets of the AAC, in my opinion, is the library, and I wanted to take that theme and design the booth with that in mind. I wanted it to be a cool hang for people to relax and browse through old climbing publications and discuss who had the better mullet, Scott Franklin or Lynn Hill, most outrageous lycra, Scott Franklin or Lynn Hill.

Because of budgetary constraints, I didn’t have much to work with so I did the best I could. My boyfriend came home from work after the first day of setup and exclaimed, “Where’s all our living room furniture?”

The Wednesday before the show started we hosted an eclectic group of friends including: Phil Powers, Jim Donini, Jack Tackle, Russ Clune, Lynn Hill (and her Mom), Christian Griffith (aka, Verve), Timmy Oneill, Ivo Ninov, Ammon McNeely, Joe Kindner, Dave Graham, Patagonia, Prana, Petzl, TNF, Black Diamond and our next door neighbor, Joe, a Vietnam vet from Guatemala. Needless to say, this was not the most restful or detoxifying way to start the show. Over the course of the four days of the show, we had personalities come by for ‘Story Time’. Lynn Hill, Heidi Wirtz, Ivo and Ammon, and Chris Lindner all came by to share stories, videos, pictures and gossip. And of course, there were the old guys, Jim Donini and Jim McCarthy (who devotedly manned the booth most of the time). Also seen and heard were Ed Viesteurs, Conrad Anker and Jim Bridwell. We even smuggled in a case of 3.2 Pabst (oh no we dih-int)

This year’s bouldering comp was held on top of the Shilo Inn’s parking garage, which turned out to be a fantastic location with a record attendance. Located right across the street from the Salt Palace, folks started assembling as soon as the beer started flowing. The wall faced south, the temps were in the 90s and the women finalists started at 6pm. Conditions were not crisp. The women were HOT! And I do mean HOT—half of the competitors wore Verve’s barely-there boom-boom shorts and teeny tiny micro-bras. And let me tell you, they wore them well. No way my mother would have let me out the door when I was 14 wearing that get up. For the men, who were unfortunately dressed more modestly (baggy shorts, boo-hoo), new AAC member Chris Sharma, took first.

A crazy after party was held at Club Sound where I had the occasion to meet yet another member from the Lynn Hill family. Her brother Tom owns the place. This normally means free drinks, but thing is, drinks were already free! Mammut, EMS and Revolution really know how to throw a party. Did I mention the cage dancers? Although I still maintain the women’s finalists were hotter.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Idyllwild, 2007

We were supposed to drive to Cabo. JT didn’t have a job and wanted to make the most of his month of unemployment. We were down in Ventura, spending a few days in the offices of Patagonia. I woke up the first morning with a hot, blistering, painful rash the shape of Asia spread over my left lat. “Looks like armpit herpes” Jonathan offered. Our friend Rob, whose house we were staying at, looked at my condition and winced. “You should go to the emergency room, I’m going to physical therapy in ten minutes, it’s right next door.” Still convinced it was an allergic reaction to my sports bra, I waited patiently on the emergency room bed, furiously texting and emailing on my BlackBerry, trying to ignore the groans from the next room where the unfortunate patient was being talked through a catheter insertion. After 45 minutes, the doctor came in, took a peek behind my gown and said flatly, “Shingles.” Thoroughly disgusted, without even knowing what shingles were, the picture of the filthy bed I slept in for two weeks in Morocco came to mind. “Kind of like adult chicken pox, but much more painful.” The doctor explained.

This, coupled with horror stories from YC about head on collisions and muggings at gunpoint, lessened my enthusiasm on our impending road trip through Baja. I scanned my mental catalog of southern California climbing areas that would appeal to JT. Hmmm, he was banned from Joshua Tree for another six months…then I thought, Idyllwild!

As we departed Ventura, YC left us with a chuckle and sadistic grin, “Beware of the 5.8s”

The authors of the guide book, Bob Gaines and Randy Vogel write, “The History of Tahquitz Rock as a climbing area dates back to the earliest beginnings of technical rock climbing in the United States. Many of the first 5.8, 5.9, 5.10, 5.11 and 5.12 climbs in the country were established here by many of the sport’s great innovators.”

I also read that it was here where Chuck Wilts, Royal Robbins and Don Wilson devised the modern “Decimal System” during the 1950s. Tahquitz local Mark Powell became one of the early Yosemite climbing bums and is credited by some with introducing the decimal system to the Valley, thus giving Yosemite credit for the innovation.

Simply put, every route at Tahquitz is a sandbag.

Day one

Sundance, 5.10b. Described in the guide as ‘a scenic cruise up the Sunshine Face’

Pitch one—a wide, 5.9 layback, un-protectable without a six friend. We didn’t have one.

Pitch two—crux pitch. Having barely reached the crux protection bolt and technically not weighting the rope, I slid six feet down the slab back onto the belay ledge. I spit scrub the edge of my shoes and then 5.12 crimp past the abysmally thin 5.10 crux only to be terrorized by the remaining 150ft. of scarcely (3 bolts) protected, and equally un-featured, ‘5.9’ slab.

Pitch three—JT backs off a 10a thin ‘crack’ version and opts for a 10b face finish. After a lot of wobbling and cursing, he gets to the belay. I follow, shrieking when the rope has even an inch of slack.

This route was done in 1967.

Day two

The Vampire, 5.11a, “A fantastic line that achieves magnificent position, perhaps Tahquitz’s finest route”

Pitch one—It takes me over an hour to lead the 10d Bat Crack. I barely barely barely do it without falling.

Pitch two—we get stormed off (it was a little windy) and bail.

This route was done in 1973

Day three—Beer deck in town.

One of the best things about climbing trips is meeting the locals and today we had the good fortune of meeting Clark Jacobs. Clark is small in stature, has salt and pepper bushy hair and mustache, and a deeply creased brown face. But behind his endearing smile and bashful eyes, live hundreds of outrageous stories. One such tale involved a stray vial of coke found at the base of a new boulder problem. Not confessing as to whether or not he indulged, he defended, “It was the 80s!” He described one partner as being so slow that, “It took her two hours to watch 60 Minutes!” Recounting epics, whippers and strippers, he had us hysterical for the next four beers. During a slight lull in the debauchery, Clark sighed wistfully and said, “Ah, then there was Lynn Hill.”

“What’s this Clark, you know Lynn Hill?!” I asked, with exaggerated interest.

“I kissed her one night, a long time ago.” He sheepishly whispered and added, “but she probably wouldn’t remember.”

“Well, let’s give her a call and see if she does!” I gleefully offered. Clark paled when I speed dialed her on my cell.

She answered.

“Lynnie! I’m at the bar in Idyllwild and there is a guy here named Clark who thinks you wouldn’t remember kissing him 25 years ago!” I blabbered in a boozie bawl.

Luckily or unluckily, she remembered.

“Oh yeah! A short Latino guy! I was a little drunk! Tell him ‘hi’!”

Clark blushed and appeared delighted.

After a couple more Sierra Nevadas, we attempted to get Clark to agree to climb The Vampire with us the next day. He had climbed it dozens of times in the past, but felt he wasn’t in proper shape to do it now.

“Come on!” I pleaded. “It will be so much fun!”

“No, I’d just slow you down.” He said with quiet nostalgia.

With more drunken enthusiasm, we got him to a ‘maybe’.

I surreptitiously paid the entire bar tab and JT and I headed off to our campsite.

“Bye Clark! See you tomorrow morning!” We both knew we wouldn’t.

At the summit of The Vampire, JT and I sat there for a good long time. I squinted down at town, imagining Clark looking up from the beer deck, watching over us and smiling.