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Friday, October 24, 2008

Dry, yet slippery!

In the dying light of the day, I'm on my my last route, Rappin' Boyz, a cool travery 12A at the part of the crag known as the Hood. I am horrendously pumped after blowing up sequences for the majority of the climb, but I just clipped the last bolt and I am just a few feet shy of the end of the route. Caaan't give up now! I continue fighting past a couple of greasy pockets and then I'm in sight of the anchors. I have to cross my right hand around to a sideways 2 finger pocket and step my left foot on a slabby ledge. Easy enough it sounds, but when I actually attempt to gain purchase, my foot, it keeps slipping. Desperation. I try in vain to press my left foot harder, but it won't stay. In the meanwhile my arms are contorted with lactic acid, and then I can't hang on any more. My fingers explode out of the shallow pockets, and whoosh, I take a 25 foot whipper. As I fall through the air, my immediate reaction is shock - wow I was so close to sending this rig! - then dismay as I realize my failure - but ultimately I just start laughing. The slick limestone of Mt Charleston claims another one. I can blame the slippery, polished rock all i want, but its really my footwork that is pathetic for words. An entire summer spent mostly climbing indoors, and a desk job that I commute 3 hrs every day for, does not a good climber make. Gym climbing, Mt Charleston is definitely not. This crag requires delicate footwork and a steep learning curve. Stuff that wasn't in my ammo bag for on a quick weekend climbing trip. But hey, I'm still stoked to be here, Mt Charleston is beautiful, inspiring, and a great getaway for a cube farmer like myself.

A mountain of limestone....delicious!!

Mt Charleston is one of the several climbing areas, in the rock wonderland know as Las Vegas. On the latest leg of his never-ending climbing trip, Walker decided he wanted to spend some of the fall, sport climbing around the Southwest. I invited myself onto his trip, showed up at the Vegas airport bright Friday am, and left Walker in charge of the rest of the logistics. I did bring a spanking new Charleston guidebook with me (a very generous gift from my gym buddy Tom) that I drooled over during the plane ride. After procuring foodstuff (thank you Trader Joe's for being everywhere for us), and a quick 1 hr drive from the airport, we found ourselves under a sunny sky, at 8000 ft, high above the Vegas desert, parking at the trailhead. Soon we were warming up on a popular 10d. There was a 12b extension that I tried but failed. For the 2nd warmup we hit this cool traversy 11c with jugs, pockets and pinches. Walker onsighted it ofcourse, while yours truly hung all over it. Damn footwork again. Climbing here made me feel like I needed a climbing 101 course and learn to use feet all over again. Just need more outdoor mileage I guess. The day did get better and we got on a 12a, and two different 12c's. Jazzmatazz the 2nd 12c was pretty cool. I made it all the way to the last 10 feet, but was stymied by the crux guarding the anchors. Just couldn't figure out the finishing sequence. I lowered and we decided to save any remaining energy and skin for the next day.
Oh dear, what should I climb next indeed? Walker in deep perusal of the guidebook.

We bivied in a primitive but free camping area by the trailhead. I've gotten lazy of late and avoid pitching a tent unless its butt freezing cold, and if the chance of rain is minimal. So I just bivied in the open, and slept really well on Walker's big Mondo crashpad.

Bivying next to the car. Check out the space blanket setup around my pillow to keep any cold winds at bay!

After a huge brekkie of eggs, veggie chorizzos and potates, we found ourselves back at the Hood. The highlight of the day was Straight Outta Compton, a super classic 12d and the first route at the Compton cave. Also the easiest route here which snuggles next to some of the big bad 14s that this crag is rightly famous for. I did every move except one which required a strong right heel hook which I was afraid to use because of a nagging knee injury on my right leg. Walker did get a good redpoint burn, and barely missed the send. My last route of the day was the one that I described in the intro to this post. Time to head out of the crag.

A climber on Straight Outta Compton. The photo doesn't do justice to the steepness of the cave. Wildly overhung the whole way, at one point I found myself completely horizontal.

My 3rd and final day we decided to climb at Red Rocks Canyon. Red Rocks is quite amazing, beautiful sandstone, and 20 mins away from the Las Vegas strip. We had a great day climbing at the Pier wall. We did a lot of pitches of mostly 11s and this one 12b that I almost snagged a 2nd try redpoint. It had a crimpy v4ish boulder problem in the middle. I was able to do it off the hang, but fell on the redpoint. Oh well, another climb to come back for. The 11a and 11c on this wall -can't remember any names :( - were really fun. This wall is a good place to get in shape. All the routes are right next to another, enabling lap burns.

I had a 7.45 pm flight to catch. But we were exhausted way before. We grabbed a quick dinner and Walker dropped me for my Southwest flight. Tired but content I made it back to SF uneventfully. Walker, thanks again for taking care of things.

These quick trips are like little appetizers. They tease my taste buds just enough to make me realize how I long for more time in the outdoors, visiting some of these amazing, beautiful climbing areas. Looking forward to the next weekend already!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lovefest and Jailhouse

One crazy weekend!

We climbed at Jailhouse today. The first day of the season...yay! A break in weather called for lows in the 70s this weekend and a few of us decided to head out there for day a trip this Sunday. To maximize the cool early morning temps, we headed out Friday night itself, bivied close to the crag, and were up pulling into the parking lot at about 8.30am. Alas, there were folks way more hard-core than us, and we were greeted by 4 other cars with their occupants who were already warming up yonder at the cliff. No worries though as I did recognize most of the cars and I was looking forward to seeing old faces.

The last time I was here was in early May and I was a little nervous about having lost some fitness. I have mostly bouldered all summer and I was not looking forward to slogging my way back to route shape.

Turned out that I didn't do so badly. I barely remembered the moves on the warmups (they are hard at 11d and above), but I got thru them. I was a little wishy-washy about finding the right project, but ended up getting on Fugitive, an uber-classic 13a. I had gotten on this maybe a year ago, but had to lower after just a couple of bolts as I was not feeling well then. So I didn't remember much, but I have definitely seen a lot of people projecting this climb, as it is indeed quite popular. I was happy to do all the moves on the route (ofcourse after handdoggin' the hell out of it!), which were indeed just as fun as others had described. I'm getting psyched on working on this climb.

I'm happy that Jailhouse season is back. I had a few climbing trips this summer but nothing too exciting in the last couple of months. Last weekend at Tahoe I flailed on another project. Jailhouse is pretty hard as well, but atleast the latter feels more enjoyable :)

I didn't take my camera up to the crag today, but did take a few pics at Lovefest yesterday. A few of the 'PG' ones for your entertainment :)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Saxophone and the Veena

Yeah, those are two of my favorite musical instruments. While they belong to very different worlds, last night was a rare treat where I got a chance to see them being played together.

SFJazz is a bright jewel in the busy San Francisco music collage. Besides year round events, each October kicks off the annual SF Jazz Festival, "where for 3 weeks in the fall, the city by the bay is the jazz capital of the world" (USA Today).

While jazz is an intrinsically American school of music, the last decade has seen a spurt of creative experimentation of jazz with other genres of music. The opening event for the SF Jazz presented the fruits of one such blend with Indian classical. Prima facie, Indian classical music belongs to a very divergent style....with an ancient tradition rooted in old world ragas, religion, and a very Eastern philosophy to music. But think beyond that you and realize, that Jazz and Indian classical and any other musical genre, are ultimately... all music. And as long as you bring a ready mind and open ears, you will be entertained.

And so I was. My friend and I didn't have tickets and were at the back of this very long line at the box office to buy el cheapo tickets (prices ranged from $20-120) However we lucked out big time when we spotted this middle-aged gentleman trying to get rid of 2 tix for his friends who couldn't make it. He sold us prime Orchestra $60 tix for $30! Nothing like finding a good deal to make an excellent event even better ;)

The 2nd set far overshadowed the first. There were long tabla and sitar jams, with the percussion and piano thrown in for good measure. There was an Indian vocalist as well. I don't profess to recognize any of the ragas, he did sing extremely well. I was blown away when the veena started playing. I wish I had paid more attention to Indian classical as a kid, because I was quite riveted. Sometime in the middle we had 3 saxophones going on at the same time, interspered with the banjo and the dholak. Quite a jugalbandi!

I'll be back next year.

A shout out to SF Jazz for showcasing such creativity!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bikram - hooked to the heat

I’m in trikonasana (triangle) pose. My legs are open 4 feet wide with my right leg bent at 90 degrees over my right toe. My waist is bent over my right leg with my right hand straining beyond my toes. My left hand, fingers straight, shoots out to the ceiling. My glutes are clenched tight, and my chest and neck all thrust upwards to follow my eyes that are straining to look past my outstretched left hand. I’m dripping sweat from every pore, creating small wet spots on the carpet by my yoga mat. I forget the oppressive heat in the room for a moment while I put all my focus on getting the maximum stretch in my body. My muscles are crying for mercy but I have to remember to not let the strain show on my face. For a relaxed face helps keep my breathing in check. A few seconds more, and then just when I feel I can’t hold any longer, the instructor tells us to relax, come out of the posture, and move to the opposing leg.

One of my favorite postures, requires strength and incredible focus.

Whew! I relax for a brief second in between poses but I’m only half-way into the 90 minutes long class. Another posture and then I need to reach down and grab a sip of water from my nalgene. I’m glad of all the water I drank this afternoon to get ready for the intense sweating that Bikram induces.

One of my weakest postures ever - Unlike this guy I can barely get my head below my knees!

Bikram Yoga is quite unlike the other kinds of yoga – such as Vinayasa, Hatha, and Asthanga - that I have dabbled in over the years. Bikram was started by this guy who hurt his knees and was told that he could never walk again. Instead he innovated this new kind of yoga where the intense heat (104 degree F) and a rigid series of postures have helped him, and countless others achieve strength, balance, flexibility, and healthful joints. While the cynic in me still finds Bikram a little gimmicky, I have to admit that I’m getting somewhat addicted to this style of yoga. I really enjoy the intensity of the workout, and in just a few classes find myself breaking new grounds. The other day I found myself being able to touch my forehead to my knees with straight legs – something I have never been able to do before.

A typical Bikram class in progress.

I signed up for a intro membership ($30 for 30 days of unlimited yoga) at which is just 2 blocks from my home. The initial idea was to find an alternative from the limited offerings at Mission Cliffs. While it’s a great perk to have free yoga classes at the climbing gym, the offerings are limited. Now I find myself getting hooked. The one thing I have to be careful of is finding the right balance between yoga and climbing. Climbing is unquestionably my higher priority. Bikram especially, gets me quite sore and then I feel weak while climbing the next day. Yoga though does feel like the perfect complement to climbing and hopefully I can continue doing yoga twice a week during the lean summer climbing months, and then once a week when Jailhouse season sets in during late fall and winter.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day in Tahoe

With reknowned skiing, Tahoe enjoys prime visibility as a wintertime West coast destination. Rock climbing in Tahoe, while not quite as world class, does offer enough variety to offer welcome respite during the (climbingwise) lean summer months. So this past Labor Day weekend Mike, Shane and I, loaded up in Mike's trusty Corolla and made the 3.5 hr trip over. Correction: should've been less than 4 hrs, but with hordes escaping hot weather in the Bay, the drive over actually took almost 5 hrs :( Long drives that get longer to contend with the heavy population density in California, are one of those things that is taking me a while to get used to after my move here from North Carolina.

We pulled up at Mayhem Cove, a nicely concentrated sport climbing area, close to South Lake Tahoe, around 2 pm Saturday. A late climbing start wasn't altogether bad since the crag gets in the shade only later in the day. After (somewhat stiff) .10c, and 11c warmups we made our way to the route of the day - Cajun Hell - a cool blocky 12b that you get to by crawling up a 4th class slab. A cheesy name, but a great route, if coupled with the 12c extension, makes a really classic 13a. Given that I currently lack route endurance, my ambitions that day were limited to redpointing the 12b. I had tried this route a few weeks back on a previous trip and was relying on fuzzy route beta that I could barely remember. Redpointing took 2 burns. My final burn was so ugly as I forgot my own kneebar beta and had to horribly muscle thru some clips in the middle. Made it to the end to clip the chains..whew! Walker, if you are reading this - you do not have to clip the anchors from the shitty undercling. You just need to make two more moves to a jug and then clipping is a breeze. Thanks to Shane for having the imagination, and kudos to him too for making the route look really easy. Mike made good work on the route as well and all of us hope to be back soon to try the entire 13 a route.

Shane making the move out of the kneebar.

I found a great (no hands) kneebar around the 4th clip.

Shane cracks a smile as he rests on jugs.

After average Mexican fare, and really strong margaritas :) we made our way to a well-earned rest. I'd have slept better but for the winds howling all night. We were bivying in the open and I had a fitful time trying to keep my ears and any other body part warm that would poke outside the sleeping bag.

The next day found us climbing at Donner summit. The route of the day was Transmogrifier - an amazing 12d at Roadcut crag - that was created unnaturally by man-made explosives to create Donner Pass road. After a really cold warmup (damn winds again) at Snowshed, we made our way to Roadcut which was mercifully warm in the sun.

I did another warmup on Totem Pile (Shane pictured above on the same route). I was happy to flash it but felt it was quite harder than the 10d given by the Falcon guide. Falcon makes really bad climbing guides by the way so avoid them if at all possible.

I worked Transmogrifier twice on toprope (am I becoming such a wuss?). This route has 3 different cruxes:
  • A V3/V4ish start on slopey crimps
  • In the middle a really bad pinch move in the middle (hardest move for me and the main crux - V4) with really awful feet but you do get a no-hands rest immediately afterwards.
  • Another V3/V4 crux guarding the route at the top.
All 3 of us managed to do all the moves. But there was no time, energy or skin (!) to give it a serious redpoint burn. We packed up around 7 and had an uneventful drive back to San Francisco to get home by about 11 pm Sunday nite.

I was just way too excited about being able to sleep in on Monday given the holiday. With really warm temps we headed to Stinson beach at Marin for a fun day of boogieboarding, swimming, eating (lots!), volleyball and beers with friends.

A great weekend overall.

Mike got this cool shot of me on Cajun Hell with Lake Tahoe in the background.

Friday, August 29, 2008

High Sierras Peak Bagging

Yes that's right, the real deal!

Getting bored of the limited sport climbing or bouldering the Bay area has to offer over the hot summer months, I decided to take up an offer from a friend and sample the more famous climbing in Yosemite Valley, or Tuolumne Meadows to be precise.

View of Echo Lake from the middle of the climb

Yosemite Valley, or just the 'Valley' as its popularly known, is a world class destination for big wall and traditional 'trad' climbing. While I'm not a traddie by any means, I've been curious to check out the climbing in the valley. Climbing feats on El Capitan is the stuff of legends, and have inspired climbers and ordinary people alike for generations.

During the summer, the Valley is quite hot (highs in the 100s), so we decided to set our ambitions on climbing at Tuolumne Meadows which 3000 ft higher, at 9000 ft is a pleasant summer destination. At about 4.5 hrs from San Francisco its a doable drive for the weekend. While I have enjoyed the scenic drive through Tioga Pass - which cuts right thru the heart of Tuolumne many a times on the way to climbing in the Eastern Sierras at Bishop - I had actually never stopped yet for any adventures in Tuolumne itself.

So this past weekend Sean and I got the typical early climber's start (butt-crack in the morning at 6 am). Early, but definitely not bright after staying out too late the previous night. We picked up food on the way in Oakdale and made good time to reach Tuolumne at about 11.30. Our plan for the day was to climb Cathedral Peak. A 5 star classic climb and one of the '50 Classic Climbs of North America'. A description of the route at Super Topo

"Cathedral Peak is one of the most aesthetic routes in Tuolumne. The climb consists of five pitches of easy and moderate crack and face climbing on perfect rock. The first few pitches are on low angle terrain that gradually steepens and becomes more difficult. Because of its quality and moderate grade, this is one of the most crowded routes in Yosemite. Luckily there are a number of variations if you need to pass a party."

So after hiding our food in bear shelters (didn't want Sean's car to be explored by hungry bears!), we huffed our way through a long 1.5 hr long approach hike to reach the base of the peak at about 2 pm.

Yes, the approach is almost over, about to reach the base of the route. Cathedral is surreal looking fin-like sharp granite monolith. I've never seen so much granite in my life as in the high Sierras!

Owing to the long nature of this route at 700 feet, most folks embark on the climb early morning. Owing to our late start we lucked out by having the route mostly to ourselves, except for a party slugging away a couple of pitches up the climb. The only worrisome part was the weather....cloudy skies with thunder in the distance. While the safest option would have been to bail, we took our chances and decided to climb on, however quietly decided that Sean would take the lead climber's role. With his greater experience with trad climbing, we were assured of a fast passage up. We managed to keep the thunder and after about 4.5 pitches of moderate slab and face climbing, made it to the top about 4.30 or so. Unremarkable descent, sore knees from the long hike back, but a raging thirst for a chilled celebratory brew!

Belaying from pitch 2

Lunch at the top was most delicious!

Despite hazy skies, here's Half Dome in the distance.

A dreamy sunset marking the descent back to the trailhead

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Trip to Bishop CA

Quick weekend trip to Bishop with my friend Yen. We were not terribly productive given the rainy weekend, however we had a great time with the few bouldering problems we tried, as well enjoyed generally cooking and slacking around the campsite ! A few photos:The master chef at work
Topping out on a morning warmup

One of the 'strong' kids on Evilution

Working Go Granny Go

On another warmup in the morning