margins of safety

It was a bluebird Sunday and I was a dead weight, stuck and swinging stupidly in space, 7 feet away from the nearest solid surface in any direction. My rappel was in the midst of going awry.

Continuing down would’ve resulted in guaranteed major injury if not outright death. Swinging inward 7 feet to the rock face, was literally impossible, and only Adam West and Burt Ward would’ve been able to pull themselves up the 25 feet back to the roof lip, underneath which I was dangling.

batman and robin

It was typically windy up high near the top of Donner Pass, and shouting back up to my three partners was a lost cause. They couldn’t see me nor I them; all they knew was that the rappel rope was still taut after an abnormally long time. All I knew was that the problem solving was not going particularly well.

We’d just finished climbing One Hand Clapping as two parties of 2, so we had two 70m ropes between us. The plan was to rap off the Lizard Ledge in two separate 35m rappels. I’d go first on the blue rope while bringing the yellow rope with me, so that I could set up the second rap, all the name of efficiently getting 4 people to the ground with minimal fuss.

E coiled the yellow rope into the standard butterfly backpack configuration and handed it to me. She made a joke about coiling it for her petite size and that I was too fat for it to fit properly. I tied it around my back and indeed the tails were on the short side; I tied them into the standard square knot but didn’t have enough tail to finish them off with overhand backups. But it was a beautiful day and we were already thinking about cheeseburgers.

I ran the blue rope through my tubular rappel device and slapped on my autoblock, which is a short 8″ loop of webbing, clipped onto my harness’s leg loop with a locking biner.

How-to-back-up-a-rappel-step-6-600x400

I asked E if she had an autoblock setup; she said “no, do you always use one?” Ever the witty one, I joked, “well, I value my life so yeah, I always use one”. Talk about your Vertical Limit levels of foreshadowing.

vertical limit cam

Before I started lowering, I asked another party of 2 who had just completed Touch and Go where the next set of anchors were. “Directly below you” was the response.

I was confused because I had just watched them climb up from a left angled ramp below me, say, 7 o’clock, and I was standing on the edge of a ledge. Directly below me at 6 o’clock was the underside of the ledge, which is to say, an overhang.

“You sure it’s not just down that ramp to my left, where you guys just came up?”

“Directly below you dude.”

“Hmm… ok.”

Dubious, I started rappelling down the ramp they’d just come up in the 7 o’clock direction, and after about 30 feet, I saw some rap chains to my right. They were indeed directly underneath the giant ledge, at 6 o’clock from my starting point. I guess brah was right, so I pushed off the ramp and flipped the blue rope over the nose of the overhang so I was hanging in a plumb line below my rappel anchor.

That was the beginning of the fuckery.

Find the poo

Click to enlarge

Click on the photo above. Zoom in and look for the poo just to the left of “7. Touch & go 3rd pitch .10a” That’s where I was, 20 feet below the roof.

As I bounced into free space, the janky square knot holding the yellow rope on my back came undone and the rope started sliding off into oblivion, where “oblivion” was defined as “the red circle with two black Xes just to the right ‘4’ where the orange and magenta lines intersect, stopping there only long enough to bounce off the rock towards the jaunty ‘1’ very far away where the green line starts”.

I caught the yellow rope with one hand, and after checking my autoblock a few times to ensure that I myself would not go shooting off to the aforementioned “oblivion” place, cautiously retied yellow. A little tighter this time.

The roof was large enough, and the wall beneath it steep enough, that I was at least 7 feet away from the vertical surface, if not more. Vainly, gamely, I attempted to swing my body a few times to try and make contact with the vertical wall but I never moved more than 6″ off vertical. Height-wise, the chains were at my eye-level, but they may as well have been in Istanbul.

So to recap, the roof was 20′ above. The chains were impossible to gain. And down we’ve already defined as “oblivion”.

I thought briefly about tying yellow to blue and continuing to rap down even further towards oblivion, but then decided that was an idiotic plan because it involved a huge unknown, that being complete lack of knowledge whether there were more chains below me and how far away oblivion was. Another party was on the ground, just starting up One Hand Clapping and I also entertained the thought of asking them for help, but they were 2 pitches down and unlikely to reach me any time soon.

Up was the only way. It took me about 5 minutes of faffing about to reach this conclusion.

I had a single length runner made of 1/2″ tubular webbing and a second single length runner made of fancy tech webbing, probably Dyneema.

The idea was to tie both runners into prusik knots above me, clip one into my belay loop, and the other was to be used as a foot step. I could step in the lower one, stand up on it, then slide the upper one higher. I’d sit in the upper one and slide the lower one higher. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Here’s what actually happened.

First, I tied the brake side of my rappel into a figure 8 on a bight, below my autoblock. I was about to introduce perturbations into my system and although I had reasonable amounts of confidence in the procedure upon which I was about to embark, it still didn’t feel great to contemplate the idea of my prusiks failing and also my autoblock failing and then that whole oblivion thing.

I used the 1/2″ tubular webbing as the upper sling first and discovered the hard way that I couldn’t get enough friction. When I weighted that prusik, it kinda slid down the rope a bit before reluctantly catching. After making 3 or 4 attempts at “push up, then slide back down on something that Really Shouldn’t Slide”, I decided this was an undesirable feature for my ascending system.

It turns out the skinny Dyneema webbing gripped the rope much more securely, so I reconfigured that sling to be the upper one.

Next lesson was that ascending with 2x single length slings is hard, because the foot sling doesn’t reach down anywhere near your feet and it is tricky to get enough height standing in it to move the upper sling any reasonable distance.

Additionally, the rope was still running through my rap device and my autoblock, and moving rope through that entire system was … strenuous.

A bit of experimentation revealed that the trick was to commit mentally to ascending. This meant flipping upside down in my rappel position so I could get my foot into the foot sling. Every time I did that, I checked in as the Mayor of Sucktown, because all the gear strapped to me including my friend the yellow rope kept shifting around and also because going upside down in your harness is not a natural position for a climber.

After getting the high foot, the other technique was to stand up very hard while pushing my foot out in front of me. This movement allowed me to push my waist higher, and thus slide the upper sling a longer distance every repetition.

Each rep rewarded me between 2 and 3 feet of height. The most annoying part was feeding the newly gained slack through my rap device and autoblock. Perhaps it would have been easier had I taken the autoblock off, but at that point in my life, that did not seem like a wise course of action.

Every 6 feet, I retied the 8-on-a-bight below my autoblock. Safety first, y’know?

In this manner, I was able to ascend 15 feet in the 20 minutes since I’d last departed the upper rap anchor. My plan was to gain the roof, give my screaming abs a break, and then figure out part 2 of the plan.

I was about 5 feet away from the roof when the party who’d come up Touch and Go rapped down the ramp on their rope. It turns out there were chains in the ramp after all, and that’s what they meant when they said “directly below me”.

After a brief bit of discussion, since the tail ends of my blue rope were actually in the ramp, we decided that he would grab those tails and pull me in towards the ramp. I’d lower back down on rappel and be guided into him, where he was clipped into the proper anchor.

Undoing my ascension system took another small effort, but soon enough I was going back down again, this time with tension on the tail ends of my rope so that I could get back into the damn ramp. Finally, I was able to clip the proper anchor and take myself off rap. It had been an annoying 20 or 30 minutes, and I was glad for it to be over.

Bringing the rest of our party down on the blue rope, and then to the ground afterwards from the 2nd rap station proved to be mostly uneventful, and we rewarded ourselves with bacon Sriracha jerky back at our packs.

Lessons

To me, the biggest takeaway is that adventures (which later blossom into epics) always stem from errors in judgement.

I had seen that party climb up the ramp with my own eyes, and I knew that rappelling off an overhanging roof is not an action to be done cavalierly. Yet for some reason, I chose not to continue down the ramp and instead opted to flip my rope over the roof into a free hanging rappel.

That decision went against my instincts, and yet I did it anyway because I chose to listen to confusing words from a 3rd party rather than trusting my own judgement. I have no excuse for my brain wandering off into stupid-landia. I’m just glad it didn’t kill me.

That said, if you’re going to make stupid decisions, at least bring enough tools to extract yourself from said decisions.

In the context of rappelling, to me, this means ALWAYS using a backup knot of some sort. Whether it’s a prusik or autoblock or whatever else, the point is that rappelling is dangerous because it is committing. Minimally, you are committing yourself to your anchor, and if you are free hanging in air, you are committed to the rest of your system if something goes south. Your 5.12 climbing skills are irrelevant if you can’t touch the actual rock, and whatever your next move is, doing it without a backup means that you have a much smaller margin of safety.

In the past, I have not always rappelled with the two minimal slings I’d need to ascend back up the rope. After this incident, I think I’m just going to start doing so. In a trad climbing situation, you probably have enough slings on you anyway. It’s harder to remember in a sport climbing situation, but I’ve also had minor excitement rapping from a 10 pitch route in Potrero Chico where all you typically need is a rope and quickdraws, and we were lucky that we had at least one trad sling with us at the time.

For those keeping track, this means that I’m now bringing an autoblock cord and two slings for any non-trivial rap.

Next, the knowledge and skills to use your rescue gear. I was lucky in that there was a clear picture in my mind on how to go up the rope, and that I have used variations of the technique in the past, although never in a situation where I was hanging free and 100% committed to the ascension system. Even so, it took me a few valuable minutes to remember the optimal way to do it.

Not a problem on a sunny, cloudless Sunday, but not something you want to be trying to remember if thunderclouds are rolling in fast and your hair is crackling in your helmet. Do yourself a favor and practice at least once in a safe situation.

Not included in this discussion are the myriad of other ways that rapping can kill you, but on a final note, every multipitch climber really needs to learn the Munter hitch, which is the friction knot you’d use to both belay and rap with if you drop your belay device. If you don’t know this knot, you are going to be a very sad panda some day and we will be your sad panda friends.

Climbing is fun. Complacency kills.

best tool for the lazy photographer i love

I’ve not had much motivation to write here lately, not sure why. Some combination of lack of emotional bandwidth, overhead using (and maintaining) a “heavyweight” piece of software like WordPress, and just general focus on living life rather than documenting every last piece of it.

xmas in Vegas

To that extent, I’ve been pretty pleased with Google Stories, a surely underpublicized piece of technology out there.

climbing in Potrero

It’s pretty brilliant. You download the G+ app Google Photos app (edit 2 June 2015) to your phone and set it to autobackup. I turn off full-size backups so that all the storage is free. Google Photos “high quality backups” are more than sufficient for most phone photos. (edit 2 June 2015)

IMG_1676 IMG_1677

And that’s it.

riding the Delta Loop

Photos upload automatically in the background, a few days later, you get an email saying your story is ready.

climbing Snake Dike!

Perfect for the lazy photog.

Memorial Day at Smith Rocks

annual gunny trek

lake city

Another great weekend in Gunnison, CO.

My talk was not as good as it could have been, but not as bad as it could have been either. Overall, it seemed to have gotten a good reception though, and audience participation was high, which is always gratifying as a speaker. I give myself a B+.

Peterson wields

I spent Saturday skiing in Crested Butte with Jeremy (a fellow U of I alum) and Mike. I thought the conditions were kinda tough: flat light, lots of blowing snow, and due to personal stupidity on my part, I had marginal eyewear, making do with giant el cheapo over-the-glasses-sunglasses, which I called my Kim Jong Ills, since I’d forgotten to bring contact lenses along. Oops.

Still, it’s hard to have a bad day in the mountains, and that’s the truth.

melissa belays

On Sunday, John, Melissa, Katherine, and I went to Lake City (in Hinsdale County, one of the most remote places in the lower 48) to climb at their relatively new ice park.

I have to admit, after the first pitch, I had serious doubts if the sport was for me. Burning arms, battered knees, and a constant spray of ice chips in the face aren’t really my idea of a good time.

But the second time up was much more pleasant. Using a pair of lighter, leashless tools, and having a better idea of what to expect made all the difference in the world. I could see myself getting into this sport. Maybe. Probably the ice park version where you don’t have to wake up at 2am.

Happy president’s day!

[as always, photos are clickable to enlarge and see details]

katharine ascends grivel para la proxima nivel

outfoxed on mt. fox

One of the last things that Phil suggested I do was this really cool walk up Mt. Fox, near the Fox glacier. Sounded good to me, so he printed off a b&w topo for me, and bade Wendy and him adieu.

A few hours later, I arrived at the Fox glacier village, filled out an intentions form at the Department of Conservation (DOC), and drove back out to the trailhead.

My plan was to walk up Mt. Fox, bivy on the ridge leading up to Mt. Craig, tag Craig in the morning, and then return to the car. Having returned all the stuff Wendy and Phil had lent me and a desire to travel somewhat on the lighter side, I basically had my bivy sack, sleeping bag, food, and camera.

Deliberately, I decided not to bring the one man tent, since it was heavy and bulky, and as I had no stove, only had cold food like canned tuna (and chocolate :).

I quickly blasted up the trailhead and just as quickly, immediately lost the trail. Now for those people who have never walked in New Zealand, let me just say that the trails (well, called “tracks” in their parlance) are not really anything like what we have in the States, and this being a not highly trafficked trail meant that it was more overgrown than normal.

Literally two minutes after starting, I found myself faffing about and writhing around in dense undergrowth. For ten minutes, I thrashed around until I finally found a triangle marking the track.

The poison track.

You see, the Kiwis use plastic orange triangles to mark the track meant for humans, and they use both blue and pink triangles to mark the tracks where they lay out poison traps to kill off the possums and stoats so as to give the native birds a chance to live.

The poison tracks are way bushier than the human tracks, so I knew I was in a bad way. Frustated and feeling stupid,, I finally pulled out the topo, and slapped myself across the face for being so dumb. Don’t cross the river, dummy! D’oh!

Ok, that problem solved, I basically had to fight my way all the way back to the start and tried to keep a better eye on the orange triangles. Returning back to the initial point of confusion, I was … still confused. For the life of me, I really couldn’t find the next happy orange triangle, so I made another guess, and luckily, due to my finely honed mountaineering instinct (or the fact that even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while), saw a flash of orange … after more bushwhacking.

Seriously, this track was third class jungleering, at multiple points having to climb straight up 6 and 7 foot high root formations to keep going. I estimate that the majority of this track at 60% or steeper grade.

What would make things better? A game! I started playing a game where I would give myself a point every time I got concerned about getting seriously lost and not being able to find my way either up or down. Well, the point was only scored after experiencing those feelings and then successfully finding the next blessed orange triangle.

At this point in my trip, I was actually back in hiking shape, and was able to actually make decent progress. The guidebook author suggested that it would take 2 hours of “climbing through the beech forest before gaining the ridge” and it took me about 1:45 of writhing up slippery roots, muddy rocks, huge mossy trees, and scoring points, so that’s not too shabby.

Finally, I reached the trig point (a white tower thingy used for surveying), and breathed a sigh of relief. “A ha!” I thought — no more bushwhacking! Yay!

Well, kinda. See, there were these 6 foot high tussock grasses completely growing and reaching across the trail. Normally not a problem, but when a giant cloud is sitting on top of the mountain, and further when one recalls that clouds are made of water and observes the gentle mist condensing on the huge grasses, well, simply walking through the giant grasses means one is going to end up as soaked and wet as if it were actually raining.

So much for the “fine weather” report from the DOC.

I kept at it for about another half K and maybe another 50 vertical metres, and while i found the track to be extremely easygoing, I was completely wet wet wet.

Maybe I shouldn’t have started my endeavour at 4:20 pm. Oopsie.

The astute reader will now deduct that it was 6:30 pm or thereabouts, and darkfall was going to happen at 8:45 or so. It was scheduled to be another hour or so to the Mt. Fox summit, but the huge cloud simply wasn’t lifting.

I was at a decision point — keep on trucking or retreat? The factors for consideration:

  • all of the clothing I was wearing was wet
  • my sleeping bag and vest (for warmth) were down
  • my long pants (dry) were cotton, but I did have a polypro base layer long sleeve top
  • I had no way to make a fire
  • no tent, only a bivy sack, which wouldn’t have been so great in a real rain
  • the descent was going to take at least another two hours, probably longer due to a sore and achy knee
  • I hate retreating

Well, it seems that I have learned something in my old age. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, I made the decision to turn around.

Two and a half miserable hours later, I was back at the car and reading the LP for hostel recommendations.

Now realize that I like to spin a good yarn, and I like to make myself look and sound kinda bumbly because let’s face it, that kind of writing is much more interesting, but for those of you who might be wondering about my decision making skills, here was how I decided to attempt this walk in the first place:

  • The DOC projected “fine weather” for several days, and there was a huge high pressure system parked off the west coast; at no time did it actually ever precipitate on the ground
  • I was actually quite dry in the forest, even though it was somewhat wet and muddy. It wasn’t until walking through the tussock grass clumps near the ridgeline that I got soaked (and the description didn’t really mention anything about the grass)
  • the cloud buildup on the mountain was actually a common afternoon occurrence and normally lifts in the evenings; this particular cloud sat there for another 36 hours
  • I was fit (knee notwithstanding), so I knew timewise, I could do it in less than the projected time (total time projected at 8-12 hours for just Mt. Fox; at my pace, it would have been 6 hrs total), and starting off at 4pm or so wasn’t actually that unreasonable

So you see, I’m not 100% stupid, let’s call it just 80% or so, and leave it at that. In any case, I ran away so that I can blog about a successful trip in the future. :)

cheers.

Jimmy Ray Forester, 1963-2006

Jimmy was one of the coolest guys I’ve ever had the privilege to climb with. He was one of the regulars at Stoneworks Silos, the climbing gym in Carrollton, TX where I’ve whiled away too many sweltering, sultry summer nights to count.

In fact, that gym was my formative gym, and the guys who climbed there my formative idols, grizzled old guys who’d been around as long as the rocks they were climbing on. Always humble and perpetually grinning in their easy ways as climbers sweated and huffed in the stifiling Dallas air, their drawled comments laconic and chock full of cowboy wisdom, they was good people.

Everyone had a nickname — Big Steve, Skinny Richard, Bearded Steve, Linda Lee, Stone Face Laura, Jazz (the human, not to be confused with Jazz the dog), Chuck Kwon Sherpa, and Dane (ok, Dane didn’t have a nickname; you could climb anywhere in the southwest and someone would know Dane).

We called Jimmy “the Jedi”. He’d climbed the hardest, survived the scariest, seen the most, and was the calmest, humblest person in the entire place. To me, he had more climbing knowledge in his pinky than I’d ever be able to claim. And he was willing to share it with me, the complete gumby n00b, and even belay me on piddling gym routes, always with the zen-master-like advice that unlocked techniques and routes that should have been beyond me.

On real rock, it was no secret that if you had a project and wanted guaranteed success, you would invite Jimmy. We didn’t call him “cheater stick” for nothing.

I’m having a hard time believing that I’m writing about him in the past tense. In my mind, he’ll always be part of the bedrock of Southern climbing.

We’ll miss you Jimmy. RIP.

Friends of Forester

syke’s sickle with mikey morrin

An old college buddy of mine is on his annual summer climbing road trip, for the purpose of staying sane between semesters of grad school. He went out to Yosemite for a few weeks and managed to tick Steck-Salathe, Freeblast, Astroman, Serenity Crack, and maybe a few others.

He’s climbing hard. I’m not.

We got on Syke’s Sickle last weekend (after unsuccessfully trying to convince him to do some of the more remote climbs Larry Hamilton opened up).

I wasn’t even going to write a TR, since the day went so perfectly, but here’s a mini…

In bed by 10pm, up at 2am, on the road and driving from Ft. Collins to Estes while fearfully avoiding the nocturnal grazing mule deer. In the Glacier Gorge parking lot by 3:30 to minor dismay at seeing 15 cars in
the lot already!

The hike in is quick and uneventful, and the brisk mountain air is a welcome relief from the summer doldrums. We’re treated to a lovely alpenglow lightshow bouncing off Arrowhead (I think) as we switch our headlamps from bright to dim to dimmest to off.

Rounding the trail and laying eyes upon Spearhead, we’re amazed to be the first non-elk megafauna out and about (although arguably we’re not so charismatic this time of morn). The route is free and clear and we’re climbing in short time.

The weather is perfect — a rarity in the park — and we’re 4 pitches up by the time we see brightly colored, polypro-and-Patagonia-clad ants industriously milling about at the base.

Out of shape am I as it’s been a while since I’ve done anything more than cragging. Michael gets the crux 5.9 roof pitch in two tries, and the “exciting” 5.7R final traversing slab pitch is mine. The lone bolt
in the middle of the slab looks to be forever and a day away. I’m mentally weak, and 10 feet out from the belay, I want to come back to the safety of aluminum and spectra bits that are rated up to 16 kN of
pity and relief.

I’m so out of practice though, that as I attempt to come back to the belay, I step down and right instead of left, and now I’m pretty much committed to the bolt. Michael laughs at my predicament, and I dredge up memories of being a somewhat respectable journeyman climber, and make a few moves to clip the bolt. Only a 5.7, eh?

The summit is a bit of scrambling away, and we converse with the magical ants who’ve blown up to person-sized people. Too soon, we’re off and on the loose descent. The 5.5 mile hike back to the car seems endless, but we can derive our proximity to the trailhead by the density of unhappy looking Texan and Nebraskan children being drug up the trail by their parental units.

Back at the car by 6:30pm, nary a cloud all day, and the Mickey D’s in Estes even has a real dollar menu, made legit by the presence of the double-cheeseburger and hot fudge sundae. Cheap calories by way of
deliciousness. Yum.

Syke’s Sickle, 5.9, 7 pitches. Not a bad weekend for a desk jockey.

where does one go on Memorial Day weekend?

Way too much drinking and rocking out to Hell’s Bells (an all girl AC/DC cover band) on Saturday meant that we didn’t get started until 11:30 on Sunday, and even then with wickedly debilitating hangovers.

Guessing that most Front Range crags were going to be crawling with people, Tim and I went north to Vedauwoo. Lots of hikers and RVers and BBQers out and about, but no climbers. Excellent.

We got on Edward’s Crack (5.7) at Walt’s Wall, and had the entire place to ourselves. Turns out Tim forgot to bring his harness, so we rigged one out of two sewn runners. He also forgot his belay device, so we decided that the leader got a belay from my ATC while the second would get a Munter hitch. Cool beans.

Tim fires the first pitch; I take the second, and Tim follows as fast as he can so we can get off the top and avoid the ugly-misshapen-lightning-filled clouds oozing rain and electric death on us from on high. After the scramble down, we wave “hi” to the tourists and marvel that the displacement of a few hundred yards can so hugely effect one’s experience and sphincter.

Just in time, we’re back at the car, and the heavens unleash hell. Rain gushes forth. The drive back to Ft. Collins via Laramie is surreal with maniacal 18-wheelers bent on making time, but only succeeding in making mayhem. One fishtails wildly across 2 lanes not 50 feet in front of us before regaining control, unlike his brethren on the shoulder, that
ended up jack-knifed and smashed and smoking into the granite walls on the side of the highway.

A sobering way to end the day but the alternative is to sit on your couch and avoid atheriosclerosis or maybe getting hit by a meteorite. The games we play.

A few pics here:

http://flickr.com/photos/chizang/156169506/in/set-72157594149157205/

turducken day 2004

Spent Turkey Day in Las Vegas again this year, driving out there with Stephen, Whit, and the two dogs. It’s much more pleasant to split the 12 hour drive amongst three people.

First day was at the Gallery. Warmed up on a 10d (oops, a bit hard for a warmup), then knocked off the 8 and the 9 next to it. I felt strong so I tried climbing the 11b coming out of the right side of the pod. I wanted to redpoint that fucker, but was a bit pumped, so I had to hang. Too bad I only got one shot at it, as we decided to leave for the Sandstone Quarry. (maybe next year…) Over at the Sandstone Quarry, Stephen and I attempted a route called Red Man (10+), but backed off since the sun was setting fast, the route was poorly bolted, and it was chossy as hell.

(Foreshadowing #1: I woke up that morning and it hurt to swallow. Didn’t think much of it at the time, since the air out there is so dry (it’s a desert, duh), and that sort of thing usually happens to me the first night camping.)

Second day, Whit, Julie Haas, and I headed over to Birdland (5.7, 5 pitches) on the Brass Wall. I was expecting a nice quiet day since the route supposedly isn’t in any guidebooks, but there was a conga line of literally 8 people in front of us. I should have suspected — by the time that I would get to hear about a “secret” route, the cat would have been let out of the bag long ago.

Regardless, we decided to wait and ended up having a pretty nice day. A guided party of 3 bailed after p2 because the guide didn’t want to deal with the expected clusterfuck, and the super slow party of 2 bailed left onto an alternate route. That left another party of 3 who put a lot of space between us when they let their ropegun take all the pitches while we just took our time.

All in all, it turned out to be a pretty nice day and some aesthetic climbing.

(Foreshadowing #2: woke up that morning with a continued sore throat, and now a mysterious pain in the back of my neck/base of my skull. I figured I just slept on it funny and didn’t think much of it. Also, despite it being a pretty nice day, I just couldn’t get warm while climbing.)

Day three saw me feeling like complete and utter ass. Suck = flu. There was no way I was climbing, so I laid in the tent all day sleeping while Stephen, Julie, and Whit ostensibly went to climb Johnny Vegas (5.7). When they got back, I learned that it too was crowded, and they only managed two pitches before deciding to bail and find something with fewer people.

That night (Saturday by now), a wicked wind storm kicked up as they are wont to do out there, and we skedaddled out of town, trying to get a head start back to our respective climes. After “eating” dinner (Stephen, Julie, and Whit ate; I tried not to puke), we bade Julie farewell and headed up I-15, making it to Mesquite, NV before crashing at the beautiful Oasis hotel (I call it… “sarcasm”).

Another night of suck. The shower was nice, but laying in bed and sweating all night was not. Ugh. Up at the next morning bright and early, I was a quivering mass of sweaty jello in the backseat while Stephen and Whit negotiated the lovely storm that had decided to blanket Utah, and later Wyoming. What should have been a 10.5 hour drive dilated into 16 — black ice sucks.

In any case, we made it home ok, and a good time was had by all — even me, even though I had the flu. I love the desert and I *love* Vegas, so I’ll never say that I had a bad time there.

I’ve got a few pics up. Check them out here:

http://www.chizang.net/alex/gallery/redrocks-2004

indian summer at shelf road

Climbed at Shelf Road a few weekends ago, roundabouts the first of November or so. The weather was amazing — temps felt like they were in the mid 70s or so, and at one point, we were actually chasing the sun.

Climbing at Shelf always makes you feel like a hero, since the ratings are a bit soft. I got what was ostensibly my hardest onsight to date: some 10d whose name I can’t remember. Who knows if that grade would hold up at other locations.

In any case, the climbing was fab, the weather beautiful, and the company was about as solid as it gets. Now that old man winter is upon us, we can only dream of the halcyon days of the first of November.

Pics are here.