Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Some places just feel like home.

I first visited Bishop, California in 2003, and spent almost 4 months in this little mountain town of 4000 people. Located roughly 5 hours north of Los Angeles, Bishop sits on the eastern, dry side, of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At first glance Bishop appears to be just another American highway town, but upon closer look, one will observe all the amenities desired by those of us commonly referred to as "dirt bags"; good coffee, a gear consignment shop, cheap food, and a delicious blend of real American cowboy, and climbing hero's. Did you know Peter Croft made the move from Squamish to Bishop? That's saying something. In fact, Bishop is really is just America's version of my own hometown, Squamish.

My first trip to Bishop will be forever imprinted on my memory. I can recall the awe I felt at living in such close proximity to mountains, real mountains. I would sneak glances at Mt. Humphrey as the weather swirled around it's 4200 m summit. It is here that I was first introduced to the work of climber/photographer, Galen Rowell. Before his death, Galen was equally known for his climbing achievements, as his photography. I believe no introduction to Bishop is complete without an introduction to the work of Galen Rowell...

There's nothing quite like the Sierra Wave. Wikipedia say's, "The Sierra Wave is a type of lenticular cloud created by winds that lift off the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. Known as lee waves, Sierra Waves form as winds hit the Sierra Nevada and are forced to rise, causing water vapor to condense as it cools and forming lenticular clouds on the leeward side of the mountain range. These clouds can remain stationary for many hours. The formation of a Sierra Wave is dependent upon many factors, including wind speed and direction, leeward wind patterns, and water vapor. Given that Sierra Waves are dependent upon many variables their formation is unpredictable." Galen Rowell photo.

Galen Rowell photo.

Galen Rowell photo.

Galen Rowell photo.

Now that you have been formally introduced to this place called Bishop, let me share a few stories from the most recent trip to my, "home away from home". 

On November 6 I saw Colin off, it was time again for his annual migration to Argentina. I wouldn't be joining him until the New Year, and steadied myself for what has become our twice annual 2 month separation. Being securely unemployed, and free to follow my own adventurous inclinations, I made plans to hit the road south, to Bishop naturally, the day after Colin departed.

I am a boulderer at heart. Though I now spend the majority of my time tied into a rope, I still catch myself daydreaming about the simplicity and commeraderie I can only find when bouldering. 

Power to the pad people! My mom's photo.

It turned out a friend from Vancouver, Ian, was planning to make the same pilgrimage south for his own little adventure, and so, we hatched plans to caravan in our matching Subaru Foresters to Bishop. I thought we were pretty clever for bringing walkie talkie's to help break up the monotony of the 20 hours drive. Though apparently, I'm looking pretty old, because my radio name was "Old Grey Mare"? Ian, who's is only 2 years younger than me, escaped the derogatory naming and wished to be called, "Young Buck".

Example radio conversation...

"Old Grey Mare to Young Buck."

"Copy that Old Grey Mare, what's up?"

"...I have to go pee again!"

"Jeez, this is like, the fourth time in the last hour. What is this, the great American Rest Stop Road Trip?"

I can confirm, the rest stops on I-5 are second to none! Keep up the good work America!

Team Subaru Forester! Yes, it snowed on us...

The open road baby! Actually, I hate driving, it was a LONG stretch of open road!

Luckily, our Squamish buddies, Tony and Hannah, were already in Bishop and had picked out a lovely site for us all in the climbers campground aptly named, The Pit. Our "road trip family" was now complete. And so, for the next 2.5 weeks we basked in delicious California sun by day, and soaked in hot springs by night. 

The family.

Our home. Not too bad, just ignore the pit toilet...

It was my best trip to Bishop yet, and the perfect distraction from being on my own. After spending a few days in the Buttermilks, and attempting, and failing, on High Plains Drifter, we headed to a new destination for all of us, The Druids. But first, a few photos of The 'Milks...

A view from the Druids towards the Buttermilks, with Wheeler's Crest in behind. My mom's photo.

From a previous trip, me on the Cave Route V6, the Buttermilks. Colin's photo.

Tony winding up...

Tony on Saigon V6. Probably the most beautiful piece of stone I have ever bouldered on.


Ian being born again, and again...and again. Apparently, he had to be born again like, 7 or 8 times on this one.

Certainly, The Druids are hands down, the best bouldering I have done in Bishop. Our first day sampling the area, I bloodied my fingers and could barely lift my arms above my head when I woke the next morning. I love that feeling! I was so mesmerized with the zone I even allowed myself to dabble in a few highballs. I surprised myself with how adept I became at crimping micro crystals while executing a sloping highball topout! I mean, really, there is no other option than to succeed!

The Druid's namesake, The Druid Stone. Apparently the only people to have reached the top of this thing are two Brit's via some 5.12 R/X route?! My mom's photo.

The view from the Druids. My mom's photo.

It's like a candy shop for boulderers. My mom's photo.

Look at this boulder!! Mo and his green pants showing us how it's done.


Mo on Arch Drude V5, classic highball.

The Thunder Wall. Problems from V3 to V10 on this little gem. All are amazing!

Check out the footwork on this one! Richie showing us how it's done.

Ha, ha, ha. The family.

The "family" did make several trips to the Gorge, attempting to change things up, and get off the ground a little. I'd only climbed a couple days in the Gorge on previous trips. I had always found myself too preoccupied with the bouldering to bother with much else. But, I must admit, the Gorge was the perfect distraction for sore fingers.

The Jalopy Van encounters a wee problem enroute to the Gorge. Nothing a carabiner and #4 nut can't fix.

Ian finding the ultimate rest? Personally, I think it looks rather painful. 


Me part II.

Ian "The Ninja" Bennett styling.

After 2.5 blissful weeks it was time for everyone to head our separate ways. Tony, Hannah, and Ian were headed to Red Rocks, and I was due to meet Booth in Yosemite. It was going to be my first visit to the Valley. I had avoided it up until now, always writing it off as too much of a gong show, and full of climbing "bros". Why would I go out of my way to climb in an area that I can just as easily replicate in Squamish?

The team!

OK I was wrong. The Valley is amazing.

Booth and I climbed 4 days; Reed's Pinnacle (complete with a 20 metre sideways squeeze chimney), Serenity Crack to Sons of Yesterday, Pat and Jacks Wall, and The Moratorium. The weather was perfect, we climbed in t-shirts everyday, and the Valley was empty. I'm pretty sure we were the only climbers in Camp 4. It kind of felt like we owned the place, like we were getting away with something?

Yes Booth, that is a big mountain!

Regardless, great times were had. And at the end of it all Booth bought half my rack, so guess who get's a brand new set of cams!!!

Ah, "The Half Dome!".

Camp 4 was empty, except for the Deer family.

Middle (L) and Higher (R) Cathedral. According to Booth the Direct North Buttress (The DNB for those in the know) is the desirable route.

The Moratorium. I flailed on my pitch, Booth sent his, then we bailed. I can confirm that 10+ in the Valley is hard.

Booth following pitch 1 of The Moratorium 5.11b.

This was when we bailed.

All was not lost on The Moratorium. At least I discovered my "Spirit Animal". As I belayed Booth to the top of my pitch I was buzzed by a wee little Hummingbird. This is not the first time I've been buzzed by a Hummingbird while climbing. Then as I began the last rap off the route, I came upon this little nugget tucked away into a crack on the wall. Go figure.?According to Booth, this was a sign, the Hummingbird was my spirit animal. Come on folks, try it out yourself, there's a quiz online! Here...hehehe.

And yes, I sold Booth half my rack in a Valero parking lot.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Of golden leaves and larch trees...

After returning from our respective Waddington adventures, Colin and I had settled into the usual Squamish routine; sleep until 9:00 am, Sarah makes fruit smoothies, Colin makes eggs, check the weather -- it's perfect -- go climbing, come home, stretch, check emails, and make dinner as the sun sets over the mountains to the west. It's a glorious routine, that I believe, is completely unique to Squamish. Life is good here during the dog days of summer.

Sarah, the sound, and the sun. Rich So's photo.
Colin celebrating the dog days of summer like only my boyfriend can!
By some miraculous turn of events, fall, and the ensuing monsoons, didn't arrive as expected in mid-September. Typically, Squamish empties of its climbing population around this time as seasoned road-tripping climbers pack up and head south, chasing the sun. Colin and I are no different, and after so many years of embracing the "sun chasing" routine, our internal clocks were telling us it was time to get out of dodge. 

And so, despite the near perfect conditions in Squamish, we packed up the Subaru and headed for the Rockies. Brilliantly, the good weather that had befallen us in Squamish, was following us to Alberta. We were headed to Lake Louise where Colin was to meet up with a friend, John, for a couple days of climbing cold, snowy, icy north facing routes on some classic Rockies peaks. I for one, don't want anything to do with that kind of finger freezing "fun". So, I gladly let Colin go romp in the ice with John, while I met up with my friend Josh to get things started with a day of climbing at the Back of the Lake. 

At the end of our climbing day, Josh, a seasoned dirt-bag himself, took a few minutes educate me on how to dirt-bag in style in Lake Louise -- unfortunately, for the sake of a "free" shower next time we show up in Lake Louise, I can't reveal any of Josh's secrets. That evening Colin and John returned triumphantly from a little jaunt up Mt. Temple's Greenwood-Jones. John unfortunately, had to high-tail it back to Calgary to work for the week, so Colin and I spent the next 5 days climbing around Lake Louise, with one brief trip to Canmore. 

I hadn't spent any time in the Rockies since a sport climbing trip in 2008 and I was reminded all over again, just how awesome Rockies climbing really is. Our trip was made all the sweeter as we found ourselves in the midst of fall in all it's colour-filled glory. Everywhere we went we were greeted by scenes of blazing yellow Larch and Spruce leaves... 

Larch trees and the Valley of Ten Peaks. Colin's photo.
The Back of the Lake is most certainly the prize of the Rockies. Perfect quartzite crimps and cracks situated above the oft' photographed Lake Louise. Climbing at the Back of the Lake is an exercise in exposure management, despite most routes being only a single pitch in length. With the quartzite band sitting high above Lake Louise, and Mt. Victoria towering well above, it's hard not too feel intimidated. Fittingly, Colin and I both got scared on the classic 5.12 crack "Scared Peaches", something I will certainly have to come back for!

This is not me! Katie Brown climbing at the Back of the Lake. Boone Speed's photo.
After a few days climbing at the Back of the Lake it was time for a run up the ultra-classic Cardiac Arete on The Grand Sentinel. I'd heard whispers of how awesome this 4 pitch route up a narrow quartzite spire was, but I did not fully appreciate its radicalness until we were on it. The photos will have to speak for themselves....

There she is, the Grand Sentinel. Colin's photo.
Sarah approaching the Sentinel from Sentinel Pass. Colin's photo.
Colin approaching Sentinel Pass.

Colin adding a layer as we head into the shade.
The Sentinel's shadow!
Colin following pitch one.
Sarah following pitch two. Colin's photo.
Sarah following pitch two. Colin's photo.

A brief moment of sun. Colin belaying pitch three.

Another cool shadow down there. Colin following pitch three.

Colin leading up the last pitch. Colin's photo.

Sarah following pitch four to the summit. Colin's photo.
GOING ON HERE! Trying to look good for the camera, and apparently not doing a very good job! Colin's photos.
Cumbre! Colin's photo.

Enjoying our skinny little summit. Colin's photo.

We combined a little sightseeing tour and reconnaissance mission the following day to rest our tired bodies. It was my first time on the Icefields Parkway, and was also a perfect opportunity for Colin to scope conditions on some of the routes that John and he were hoping to climb the following weekend. Probably the highlight of the day was watching Colin talk to the Ravens -- he made one friend in particular.... 

Colin checking out the conditions on Howse Peak. 
After our rest day we headed to Canmore for some visiting and a day of limestone sport climbing at Bataan, a glorious south facing limestone wall above Canmore. Only problem, the approach is about 1.5 hours straight up! 

Finally, while Colin took off with John again, I spent a day climbing with my friend Amelie on Yamnuska, a Rockies classic wall, and one I'd not climbed on before. The company was incredible, we had a great day. The climbing, I don't know if I'm sold on Yam yet?

Amelie following pitch one of The Devil's Right Hand on Yamnuska.

Looking out towards Calgary and the beginning of the Prairies.

Amelie following pitch three.

Amelie leading out on pitch four.

By far the best pitch of the route was the last one. Amelie leads out the big 5.10 roof to the top of the wall.

And that concluded our little Rockies holiday. It was time to get back to Squamish for a few more sends before mother nature turned on us in all her fury.