August 21, 2010

is it possible to look MORE bald with a goofy helmet?

(Apologies to my facebook friends, who may already have seen the photos I posted there.)

Our last full day in Bend, Sam and I went off with dear friend and wonderful hostess Tiffany and her son to climb a rock.  Of the four of us, I was the only one without any time in a climbing harness.  Sam had completed his Climbing merit badge at boy scout camp.  Suffice to say, I was excited and nervous.

We set off for Smith Rock, about 40 minutes north of Bend, Oregon.  This is a gorgeous river gorge and huge upthrust of stone in the middle of the high desert of east-central Oregon.  From the outside, it merely looks like a setting for one of those old Western movies where everyone dies of dehydration.  Then you get up on top and into the gorge, and my god it's beautiful and dramatic.

From the parking lot, hiking off into Smith Rock State Park.

From a switchback along the trail into the park.  The river gorge is simply spectacular.

This was taken from the base of our climb, across the river.

We hiked in about a half mile.  It starts with switchbacks to descend into the gorge valley, then a pleasant hike along the river and an ascent up various steps to the base of the route our guide had picked out.  Did I mention our guide?  Aaron, from Chockstone Climbing Guides, was our mentor and guide for the day. He'd picked out two routes for us, spanning 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.  The first, Cinnamon Slab, is a 5.6 climb. The second, Ginger Snap, is a 5.8.  I had some idea of what this meant because Big Bro had explained this to me the week before.  5.6 sounded OK but tough.  5.8... we would see.

Long story short:  Climbing was fun but much, much harder than it looks from the ground.  The Cinnamon Slab climb looks like an easy jaunt up a sloped surface, but when you're fifty feet off the ground and have a 14 inch wide surface you're clinging to at a 75 degree pitch with no footholds, it takes a little focus to keep your cool.  On top of it all, you're wearing this really goofy helmet that, you're thinking at the moment, will only serve to keep your scalp from getting lacerated as every bone in your body breaks as you bounce down the rocks to the bottom.

But then you remember you're on belay, and if the person on the ground likes you and your guide has properly anchored the rope at the top of the climb, you're pretty safe.  So you carry on to the top, sweating like a cold beer on the tar in a Las Vegas parking lot in August.

Here are some photos from the Cinnamon Slab (5.6) portion of our day.

Aaron, our guide, setting up the route.  Relax, ladies.  He's married.

Sam belaying, with Aaron as backup.

Sam nearing the top of Cinnamon Slab.  The point he's climbing in this shot has a surface only about a foot wide.  There are holds on the outside of the rock, too, but I found those not as tempting as maybe they should be.

Me at the bottom of Cinnamon Slab, taking my first steps up any climbing route ever.  I look pretty manly in this, don't I?  Except for the dorky helmet, of course.

Me about halfway up Cinnamon Slab.  Here it's about two feet wide, maybe a little more.

When we had just all finished on Cinnamon Slab, a group of 7,000 experienced climbers arrived and started loitering about six feet away from us.  OK, maybe it was more like 12 people in climbing gear, and I don't know how experienced they were.  The way they hovered, though, it appeared they intended to climb the routes we'd set up already.

No matter what they were there for, I was certain of one thing:  I was not excited to have an audience.  I knew I would make a total fool of myself.  43 year old doofus in a goofy helmet slipping off the rock and ending up dangling upside down from one foot caught in a tangled mess of rope.  I was sure that was my future:  a future filled with laughter from below and blood rushing to my head.

I did go up the Ginger Snap route.  It starts with a little scrambling up some boulders until you get to the flat part.  I stood on that last ledge for maybe five minutes trying to figure out how the hell I was going to go up even one more inch.  I sortied and retreated a number of times, frequently thinking I had made it as far as I could for my first day.  But Tiffany, the evil slave driving torture dragon lady, "urged" me on from below.  And up I went.  And damn, was it HARD.

Tiffany used a zoom for this one.  You can see my right foot is on a solid ledge, but tell me where the hell I'm going to put it next when I hoist up onto my left foot?

Another zoomed shot, as I step up off that ledge on my way to the top.

Sam struggled a little with this route, too, but he made it all the way.  You can get a sense of the route here.  Sam is roped in, by the way--it's just hard to see the rope in this shot.

After we were all done, we headed off to the Terrabonne Depot for cold beers and dinner.  Highly recommended after an exertion like climbing or a long hike.  The black ale was outstanding and the service very friendly.

It's funny how, that day, I thought I enjoyed climbing but never really felt a need to do it again.  As I get farther from the event, though, I begin to think about how I'd love to go out and challenge myself again.  I learned a lot on Ginger Snap as I found or missed footholds, held my body close to the rock, used one or two fingers for balance as I stepped up.  Clearly this won't be a lifestyle sport for me, but I would not be surprised to find myself on another wall sometime in the future.

Especially since Sam seems to love it so dearly.

August 18, 2010

Things that take six years

According to a Google search, it takes six years to

Google the phrase "six years," and you see a lot of stories about sports teams, the Iraq war, and felony convictions.  Apart from the conviction stories, which seem to have a lot to do with fraud, murder, and child pornography, mainly the stories focus on things that are decidedly still in progress.

As in, "after six years of war, Iraq still unsettled."  And, "after six years of war, bin Laden still at large."  And, "after six years, eleven out of nine Americans still don't understand fractions."  And, "after six years, Alistair Cook still dead."  (Remarkable, isn't it?  I thought he'd died in the 70s.)

You'd think they might have had the courtesy to have one that said, "after six years, Corner Kick blog still struggling to find itself, not unlike the Buddha who spent six years starving before realizing you can't get enlightened on an empty stomach."  Or maybe, "after six years, Corner Kick blog still unengaging, not unlike Hayden Christensen and that chick he was engaged to but just broke up with."

So it is that I come to six years of blogging, with little to show for it beyond a couple of web awards and a bunch of really awesome totally cool writer and blogger buddies.  Thanks to those of you who stick with me.

I've no idea why you do it.

Even Buddha's friends left him after six years of malnourishment and self denial.

August 15, 2010

caves, rivers, and obsidian

Less than 24 hours after a great weekend camping with friends at Lake Sonoma, we packed up the car and drove 500 miles north to Bend, Oregon, to visit dear friends we see only once in a while but who are definitely of the "friends for a lifetime" variety.

A word of warning to those attempting this trip:   You may be tempted to stop a the Taco Shop in Redding when you gas up.  But you'd be better off going across the street to Del Taco or around the corner to Taco Bell.  Remember the movie "Coming to America" with Eddie Murphy?  How his future father-in-law runs a restaurant called "MacDougall's" or something like that, and he literally stole the McDonald's handbook?  Yeah, this place was essentially that place, only a white guy stole the Taco Bell handbook.  It passed as sustenance.  That's about the highest praise I can offer.

We rolled into Bend in the early evening.  I love Bend.  I could move here and not look back.  The Deschutes River is beautiful, and you can see Mount Bachelor and the other peaks from most of the town.  The downtown is charming, with a ton of art and coffee shops without the self-righteous elitism of some outdoorsy liberal granola type places.  It feels welcoming, even if it lacks much diversity.  Neighborhoods near downtown or west of the river sport elegant charm in their layout and architecture, with pertly maintained yards and kids zipping around on bicycles.  Haven't been much on the Wal-Mart side of the highway, but I get the sense it turns more deserty and ranch housey and gun racky in the back of pickup trucky.  Ish.

So Wednesday I took the boys to the Lava River Cave just south of town about 30 minutes.  It's this very cool pipeline cave originally carved or formed by lava millions of years ago.  We took our flashlights and hiked the mile or so to the very end, where you have to crawl on hands and knees the last 60 yards or so.  No photos except this one at the entrance to the cave:

Into the abyss!

In the afternoon we visited the Bend farmers market and bought some of the most luscious blackberries I've ever had.  In a "welcome to Oregon" moment, there was a real hippy looking family there with a naked three year old boy, and they bought some fruit and sat right in the middle of the grass smack in the center of the market and had their picnic.  No one seemed to care much.

Thursday was a busy day.  We left early to go to Lake Paulina for a six mile hike around the lake.

The Dudleys and our hosts, including pup Angus, at the trailhead.

Besides the amazing scenery, the lake offered two special treats.  Below are a select few photos from the hike.  I couldn't put too many of them here because I was always the last hiker, which meant most of my photos of my companions were from the rear, which I have learned in 20 years of marriage does not make for a good suite of photos of your wife to post to a public forum.

The trail mostly followed the edge of the lake in single file.  We only encountered a couple of other small groups all day long.

At some points the lake reminded me of Tahoe; at others, it had more of a high desert look.  But it was beautiful everywhere.

One of the special treats along this hike is the obsidian flow.  The boys scrambled up it looking for the purest samples.

Some obsidian rocks Ethan liked.

After scrambling  back down the obsidian flow, we hiked on.  Our intrepid guide and hostess, Tiffany (yes, the same Tiffany we stayed with on our trip to England), led the way to "the beach."

Alpine lake marshy meadowish place, with squishy footing and a marshy smell.

Ethan in one of the hot springs dugouts, with Angus splashing in the lake behind.

The other big treat along the hike was an area of hot springs at the northern end of the lake.  It's not quite three miles from the campground to the hot springs.  The boys sat and had a hot soak before lunch, and Ethan especially enjoyed the warm water.  The "beach" comprised an impressive collection of pebbles without a single grain of sand, so some mile splashing was accompanied by a chorus of "ow! ow! ow!" when Sam tried to wade into the lake itself.

Angus and Ethan, again.

One other great thing about stopping for lunch here was seeing a bald eagle soar over.  Unfortunately, it flew past before I could really understand what I was seeing, and it lit in the top of a tree and never took off again until after we left.  If this isn't a bald eagle, I hope someone will tell me.  I'd never seen one before as far as I know, so this was a cool sight.

The eagle from far away, at the top of the dead tree.

Zoomed in crop of the same photo.

No, this isn't a bird's eye view from the eagle's perch.  From the beach, the trail pitched pretty much straight up a big hill, then along the side of the hill around the rest of the lake.  The views were astounding, and even after six miles of hiking this I was not at all tired of the scenery.

That night the ladies went into town for dinner and a free outdoor concert while the boys and I stayed back at the house.  The boys watched the movie Spaceballs, but I got online and worked--our big software installation of the year was Thursday night, and as with all such endeavors it was not without hiccups.  In the end, it succeeded which allowed me to enjoy our Friday activities with less sense of stress.

Friday I worked some more with a phone meeting an lunch with a local colleague, then in the afternoon I joined the families for some lazy tubing in Tumalo State Park.  Beautiful day, nice lazy river, not too crowded.  And the water wasn't as cold as you might expect.
Sam especially enjoyed the tubing.  So much so that he fell out of his tube at least twice.

On Saturday, we visited Chandy and had a nice relaxing day of it with a walk in her neighborhood and another along the river walk near the Old Mill shops around twilight.

View from a bridge looking downriver, too dark for my blackberry camera.

Today, Maria and Ethan will visit with Chandy and her family some more, but Sam and I will join Tiffany and her son Henry for a rock climbing adventure.  Sam has his climbing merit badge, and Tiffany and Henry have climbed multiple times in spots around the world.  I'm the novice in the group.  So maybe the next installment will include some photos of me hanging cheerily from ropes wrapped comically around various appendages.  Stay tuned.  Then unfortunately tomorrow we have to head home to real life once more.

August 9, 2010

Writing Contest Alert

Dear blogger friend Writtenwyrdd is holding a flash fiction contest this month.  She is generating the prompt from a raked-up mire of coagulated blog thought, and she wants your help.  Go to her blog here and read about the contest and then spend two minutes helping generate the prompt.

Then get your engines ready to flash before August 29th, WW's fourth blogiversary.

August 2, 2010

Pinnacles National Monument

Big Bro came West from our nation's capitol for our third annual camping trip last weekend.  We originally started planning this a year ago, which means we finally decided to seek an appropriate destination this June.  Everything within driving distance was booked except Pinnacles National Monument near Soledad, so Big Bro booked one of the many vacant campsites.

I know two things about Soledad.  First, it gets to about 183 degrees in the summer.  In the shade.  At night.  Second, there's a prison there.  The wikipedia page for Soledad has this helpful and cheery note:

Also located near Soledad is... a maximum security penal institution which includes a 64 bed inpatient psychiatric program primarily servicing high security inmates who have a major mental disorder....
So we gathered up the children, bought $150 worth of snacks and beer, and drove south.  It turns out that the campground is quite a distance from the Soledad side of the park, so we were somewhat disappointed that we could not spend our evenings enthusiastically and cleverly taunting the inmates from our sleeping bags.  Still, having not checked the weather report, we set off confident in a weekend of beer drinking for me and Big Bro and boy scout competence and responsibility from the 14 and 11 year old boys.

All we really knew about this place was that it sported a swimming pool, housed some caves that might be partially open, provided some hiking trails, and disallowed campfires because of very high fire danger.  Only after we got home did I see this welcoming nugget on their web site:
During the summer, extreme temperatures can make hiking uncomfortable at best, and possibly dangerous for those who are unprepared.
Good thing we had two boy scouts with us.

We also discovered, when looking at trail maps, that Pinnacles sits right atop the San Andreas Fault.

Seriously, it was hot but not unbearable, the pool was like a huge bowl of kid soup (chilled like gazpacho and not far off in hue), and the hiking was nothing short of breathtakingly spectacular.  Our campsite was cleverly located near--but not under--shade trees, with a colony of gopher holes dense enough to rival the most populous slums of Mumbai.  Or maybe they were snake holes.  Or holes for trap door spiders big enough to capture small mammals.  Regardless, we thought it best to huddle our tents on the other side of the parking space.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and since it was WAY too hot to hang out at our super-exposed campsite, we went off to hike the trail to the caves.  A short hike, only 0.7 miles each way from the parking lot to the reservoir.  Along the way are caves with narrow passages and low overheads that bang knees and heads indiscriminately.  These are not caverns under the ground but caves that look as if God simply dropped a handful of enormous boulders and allowed them to fall where they wanted.  The path weaves in and among the boulders and rock walls.  Really interesting and beautiful.  When you remember to forget that the park sits directly atop the San Andreas Fault.

Below is a map of the two hikes we did.  We did the Friday hike on Friday afternoon and again on Sunday morning, and we did the Saturday hike on Saturday.

Here are pictures from Friday's hike:

Ethan, Big Bro, and Sam at the trail head

The first stone stairway we encountered.

Da boyz on the trail, looking at the foliage including some red poison oak.

Approaching a tunnel blasted from the stone.

The tunnel.  Not long, but very cool.

The final stairway up to the reservoir.

The reservoir, which is not as big as it looks.  It's also more brown than the dirt, and, we're told, is populated with leeches almost to the extent that you could walk from one side to the other on their backs and not get the soles of your shoes moist enough even to seal an envelope.  We did not swim.

Looking for "bouldering" spots--like rock climbing only without equipment.

Sam and Mark bushwhacking through the caves, off the trail, hoping to meet up with Ethan and me a bit down the trail.  After an arduous climb up the creek bank, they made it.

Here are pictures from the piece de resistance, Saturday's hike around the High Peaks trail.  If you ever go to Pinnacles, you must hike this trail.  Unless you have a doublewide body, in which case you will see that "steep and narrow" really means steep and narrow.

The first decent view on the High Peaks trail.  Not the best we would see.

The trail continues upward alongside cool rock formations and climbing cliffs 20+ million years old.

Ethan, me, and Sam at the first of the High Peaks area.  From here, the trail went flat across the ridge for a while then dramatically up again to Scout Peak.

Sam and Ethan after a short break.  It was about 10 a.m. at this point, a little over 90 minutes into our hike, and the temperature was in the mid 80s already.

Sam, the intrepid explorer, the 11 year old conqueror of nature.  He does look a little like Teddy Roosevelt here, doesn't he?  TR was the one to set aside Pinnacles as a national monument.  Bully!

Checking out the view from Scout Peak, where there is a restroom with an antenna.  Your guess is as good as ours.

From this point, we could either go down an easy trail and up a bunch of switchbacks on the "tunnels" trail, or we could take the "steep and narrow" trail of High Peaks.  Which do you think we took?

Right.  Steep.  And narrow.  The ranger told us that this trail was build in the 1930s, and shortly after that rules were enacted so that no trails like this could be built any more.  Because the building of them is too dangerous.  Much of the trail was blasted right out of the rock, with steep drop-offs and narrow passages.  Thank goodness for the steps and railings.

The first of the narrow bits.

The first of the steep bits.  I'm pretty sure this is the stair that Frodo, Sam, and Gollum climbed to get into Mordor.

Another narrow bit.  Keep in mind Ethan is five feet tall and approximately 80 pounds.  This trail is not recommended for the tall and wide.

Another of the narrow bits.  Children can walk two abreast.  Which means that Frodo and Sam probably enjoyed the walk.  And I kept a lookout for spiders the size of Chinook helicopters.  But we didn't see any.

A view from one of the narrow bits.  You can make out the shape of the flying turkey vulture.  We did not see any condors, which live in Pinnacles.  There are only about 300 California condors in the world, which is the result of a successful repopulation effort after the population dropped to 22 in the 1980s.  Turkey vultures have a 5 foot wingspan; condors have a 9 1/2 foot wingspan.  I wish we could have seen one soaring.  That would be quite a sight.

Sam spent much of the hike pausing and looking back to make sure the rest of us were still alive.  He was always in the front.

After the hike, we were happy this national campground had a swimming pool.  A dip in the brisk and refreshing water followed by a pleasant nap on the shady lawn completed our hike in a most agreeable manner.

On Sunday morning before heading home we went back up through the caves to some climbing sites we'd seen Friday.  Pinnacles is a serious destination for serious climbers, and all along you can see routes up the stubby cliff faces where climbers left hardware embedded in the rock or splashes of chalk where their hands gripped.  The routes are amazing to look at for a non-climber.  Sam is a natural--he steps up onto the first foothold and then resembles Spider Man as he vacuums his body to the rock face and scrambles around effortlessly.  On the trail, when he wasn't looking back to see if we were still alive, he was remarking how he wished we'd brought some rope and a couple of harnesses so he could do some real climbing.  Sometimes the boy frightens me.

All in all, it was a real success of a camping trip.  We're already beginning to plan for next year's trip.  We've agreed that we want to find somewhere that has vacancy.  We have also agreed that we will begin looking for sites next June.  It worked so well this year.