Spring break- Bishop

Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear- the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break. Turning Plato and Hegel on their heads I sometimes choose to hink, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

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For almost a year now I have been working in the national parks surrounding the Bay Area- the Golden Gate National Recreation Area- in one of our world’s most beautiful cities, San Francisco, with a supportive, passionate, highly knowledgeable and all around quirky and fun crew.

During that same year I have endured some pretty crazy commutes to try to squeeze in as much time on rock as I could over the weekend. In the beginning it was hard, in the middle it was slightly manageable and towards the end I just gave up. For me the prolonged discomforts of traffic jams, the nocturnal search for a place to sleep and eat and the long drive home to make it to work on time the next morning was more intolerable than being cold on a belay pitch or hiking up a talus slope at 5 AM at 12,000 ft. No podcast or music playlist could make it acceptable in my head. My back ached from all the sitting, my eyes hurt and I probably put myself in more danger driving while tired than I have while climbing. I also was a bad version of myself. Feeling that I was investing so much time and energy into such little time on the rock, I stressed myself out trying to ensure that every minute was worth it. If I couldn’t find a route, or the conditions were crap or something else went wrong, I took it way too seriously and became a not very fun person to be around. I didn’t like witnessing this transformation. Shouldn’t the pursuit of my passion be something that gives me joy and life, not something that turns me into a selfish climber and stressed out individual?

I knew though that the job was worth it. I was gaining invaluable experience in a supportive environment and having a hell of a lot of fun during the work week, something which is a rare treat in our over-stressed world that prioritizes work over play. My work is a type of play for me, so in that field I was lucky and I seized the moment with gusto. I was (and am ) passionate about the work, as well as the place. In all honesty, the last few months were some of the most fun.

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Finally we received some  decent rainfall in California. All the wet weather made our work outfits even more chic than usual.

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Redwood creek watershed. Spent a fun two days here mapping cape ivy populations and looking at neat mushrooms and fungi

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

Dusk at Mt. Tamalpais.

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In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

Not at work, but lovely nonetheless. I will never look at the Marin headlands (hills pictured in the background) the same way again. Over the course of my job we surveyed all along those ridges and drainages.

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

Stinson beach.

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

Slipping in mud on a rainy day working at Wolfback ridge. Keepin’ it classy.

But, I knew I could not neglect the rock, the mountains, the sunshine, the wilderness and the outdoors unburdened by throngs of people trying to escape for some meager hours of recreation over a two day period. For this, to me, is the ultimate type of play and is where I draw my life’s energy. It is my support line, and without it I could not be passionate about work, or anything else for that matter. It is quite simply something I need, as is a job that motivates and engages me. I cannot exist happily in one state without knowing that soon I will revert back to the other.

So, I began to scheme. I told myself that I would work this job and try to absorb every learning experience I encountered like a sponge.  I would be energetic, eager and attentive. Happily working until the neglect of climbing caught up to me and the gym just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I calculated that to be a year of work. This is where I predicted  the perfect balance of me learning as much as I could and me wanting to take off to adventure would manifest itself.

So, let me tell you about how I came to be sitting on my friend’s futon in Bishop, writing this blog post at what is the culmination of a 3 month long trip.  I will start with yet another Edward Abbey quote (sorry I’m currently enthralled with Desert Solitaire so this blog may have an absurd amount of quotes from him) where he expresses his feelings on what he coins “industrial tourism,” or what most people these days call “weekend warrior-ing.”

“Hard work. and risky. Too much for some who have given up the struggle on the highways in exchange for an entirely different kind of vacation – out in the open , on their own feet, following the quiet trail through forest and mountains, bedding down when and where they feel like it, at a time when the Industrial Tourists are still hunting for a place to park their automobiles”
too much, indeed.

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As of two weeks ago, I am tethered to no obligations. This, though, will change soon. I spent the entire fall making sure that this would change. I spent hours researching graduate programs, studying for the GRE and looking into summer field jobs to craft the plan for  – what I thought- would be an ideal spring, summer and fall. The idea was to work until February, quit and then travel from February- early May when I would *hopefully* start a seasonal field job  that would transition me nicely into  starting a graduate program in the fall. Sounds peachy, right? Right. but it was sure as hell not easily planning all of this. I will spare the details but will say- because I am proud of myself- that it was a very stressful and difficult task to ensure that everything lined up as I wanted it to so that I could go on this trip without hesitation. That I could ease into every moment of the present because I knew the future was more or less taken care of (at least for the next few years or so). While nothing has been guaranteed yet, I have received some offers for graduate school and a job seems likely over the summer. Reflecting now on that entire process, I’d like to give myself a virtual high-five. That, culminated with alot of stress about where to go, with whom to go with and with what vehicle (my car is pretty damn old) brought it home yet again that planning for tips is difficult. “it will be worth it” i told myself time and time again. In the meantime I managed to do a few trips here and there.

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

Middle Cathedral of Yosemite Valley

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

In Yosemite Valley with Denise on Sunday Jan 17, 2016.

.

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Climbing at the Gold Wall, near Jamestown, CA

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Gold Wall, Jamestown, CA

I’ve crossed the hurdles (*fingers crossed my car doesn’t break down*) and I have a rough agenda/outline of where I want to go , what I want to do and what I want to see. All of it, though, is framed under one over-arching goal – to grow as an individual, naturalist and an outdoorswoman.  To seek out experiences that would assist in my goal to one day be a very confident, self-sufficient natural enthusiast. With this comes my other goal of simply visiting places and landscapes I haven’t seen before. Appreciating the natural beauty of the Southwest and – above all – to not take anything too seriously.  To follow my motivation and my friends to different corners of the Southwest.

It has been about two weeks, and here’s what I’ve seen and done so far.

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A very snowy and cold January/December lead into a prolonged period of unseasonably balmy weather in February- so warm in fact , that it made climbing possible at Pine Creek Canyon. Here is my partner for the day headed over the Lamb Canyon dome. While at Pine Creek I did a little bit of trad (getting scared but content with my ability to actually hand-jam successfully) and also clipped some bolts. I was particularly pleased to send the classic Atomic Gecko (12b) second go.

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My partner following me on the final pitch of the fun “Three Hour Arete” at Lamb Canyon dome. T-shirt climbing weather at 7000 ft in mid-February (in the sun, that is..)

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“Living out of my car” means crashing on my friend’s futon in Bishop. Life is so hard.

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Spent a weekend exploring Saline Valley, the most remote part of Death Valley (and maybe California) after driving down a really rough 4WD road for 2-3 hours, signs of a low-key mini-burning man raging in the middle of the desert made themselves clear, such as this marker indicating the way to the famed hot springs and campground

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Just one example of the artwork you can find littered throughout Saline Valley.

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It was still early, but recent rains and warm weather kicked off what should be an amazing wildflower season. I believe this guy is Langloisia setosissima ssp. setosissima.

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Sure was great to see a coyote that didn’t seem terrified in an urban mecca.

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Salt beds at Saline Valley… now you may understand the derivation of its name.

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On the western side of Saline Valley lie the Inyos. We went exploring in one of the many canyons of this area and I was surprised to enter into what I would describe as a lush oasis like landscape- a stark contrast from the dry open and vast desert arena we had been playing in. Hell, there were even waterfalls!

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waterfalls which we literally climbed up..

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Exploring Beveridge Canyon Hobbit Style! Shoes were basically moot at this point as the ground was totally soaked. Props goes to the maidenhair fern for providing some nice cushion 🙂

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Beveridge Canyon

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abandoned mining cabin at the mouth of Beveridge Canyon

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one of the many hot tubs made from the natural hot springs in Saline Valley. The juxtaposition between the hot tubs (as well as a literal lawn and some palm trees) and the harsh desert landscape that surrounds them is quite comical, but they sure do feel nice when the temperatures drop at night and in the morning.

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Barrel cactus close up

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My partner up high on Grindrite, a climb in Owen’s River Gorge that is pretty atypical of the gorge style – instead of featuring pulling on sloping pockets, it includes some stemming and hand jams! While at Owen’s River Gorge I was able to quickly repeat most of the hard classics I had down a yer ago, including Darshan and  Flashflood- two of the best climbs in the Gorge in my opinion.

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Despite having only skiied once before, I took advantage of the opportunity to do my first backcountry ski tour into Tuolumne with a good group of knowledgeable friends. I couldn’t say no to the opportunity as I’ve always wanted to see Tuolumne blanketed with snow and empty of tourists. I’ve had many fond memories in this area in the summer and now feel an even more intimate connection with the place.

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making my first turns!

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Inside of our weekend casa.

After around two weeks in Bishop I am off to Red Rocks for the next leg of my journey. I hope to focus on improving my trad climbing and multipitch ability while out there all while keeping the goal of becoming a more self-sufficient climber and outdoorswoman on my mind. On the rest days, I will be going to Death Valley to gaze at the wildflowers and enjoy nature without fumbling with ropes and carabiners. After Red Rocks I will likely head over to Northern Arizona to get scared some more and maybe pay a visit to the Grand Canyon.

Hasta entonces..

I feel myself sinking into the landscape, fixed in place like a stone, like a tree, a small motionless shape of vague outline, desert-colored and with the wings of imagination look down at myself through the eyes of the bird, watching a human figure that becomes smaller, smaller in the receding landscape as the bird rises into the evening- a man at a table near a twinkling campfire, surrounded by a rolling wasteland of stone and dune and sandstone monuments […] the Rockies in dusk, the Sierra Nevada shining in their late afternoon, and father and father yet the darkened East, the gleaming Pacific, the curving margins of the great earth itself, and beyond earth that ultimate world of sun and stars whose bounds we cannot discover.

-Edward Abbey
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1 comment
  1. Stephanie F. said:

    You rock. Excited to see what lies ahead for you! I’ve seen recent footage of the mega-blooms in Death Valley. Hope you’re catching that where ever you go!

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