Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ether - Baja Peninsula, Mexico (August 2007)

I was able to take a trip across the border when recently invited by a climbing buddy of mine. His wife's family (of mostly Cambodian-Americans) regularly goes down to stay in a company owned house (may as well have been a mansion) on the beach just north of Escondido. I was initially hesitant to go, as tempting as the invite was, due to the high probability of feeling out of place amongst 15 or so Cambodians, but luckily I found a lone friend who wisely jumped at the opportunity to join me. I invited several, but most were previously occupied for that weekend. Their collective loss, I guess.

How often does one get an opportunity to stay in a mansion 50 feet from the ocean in Mexico? Well, some may have that opportunity jumping at them like fat kids on a cupcake, (sorry, a friend of mine described something with that analogy last weekend, and I couldn't resist adapting it to use here) but I have been around for a quarter century, plus or minus, and have only had one chance so far. Well, I'm as opportunistic as the next guy, or perhaps even more so, depending on who "the next guy" is, exactly. If it's one of the several friends I invited who turned down the invitation, then I'm definitely as opportunistic and probably even more opportunistic than him. So, I went.

Anyway, we drove down, crossed the border, and began taking note of the differences between Mexico and America. It's got a different flavor, for sure. The houses were crammed closer together, perhaps a little less kempt on the outside than the general American home, but not without aesthetic value. Just a different sort of aesthetic. The roads weren't quite as wide, but certainly wide enough to drive on. The shoulders were often 2 or 3 foot deep culverts, rather than shoulders, which didn't seem very logical to me, but hey, what do I know about road building?

With all the differences, you may wonder what the main similarity between Mexico and California is: lots of Mexicans.

Our destination was only an hour over the border, so we arrived in short order, which I assume is enormously preferable to arriving in long order, though I'm not exactly sure what that would entail. We pulled up to the guardhouse, gave them our names, and they let us into a gathering of large, seemingly out-of-place abodes on the Pacific coast of Mexico. This development was funded almost entirely with American money, for American people, as nearly all of the development in Northern Mexico is. In a way, the ongoing coastal development there makes me a little annoyed with America, but I suppose there are worse things in the world to be annoyed about at the moment. Plus, having said how opportunistic I am, it's hypocritical of me to be annoyed at the opportunism of individuals such as Donald "I'm Fired" Trump. Not that he developed the particular community in which I stayed, but he is involved in some major developments in the same area. At any rate, I won't turn this into a post about socioeconomic parasitism.

We pulled up to the house and were greeted by a plethora of Cambodians, who, in spite of my previous hesitation about coming, made us feel entirely welcome. A brief description of the house: gate, courtyard, front door, greatroom, industrial-sized kitchen and dining room, staircase which split to two upstairs wings of the house, too many bedrooms to count - most with private balconies overlooking the ocean, outdoor fireplaces, exercise room, theatre room, I took the picture you see above in the backyard, we had around 20 people in the house and room for about 10 more, I imagine. It was decent...could have used more cowbell though.

We got there kind of late in the evening, so we had some marshmallows around the fire outside and went to bed. We got up the next morning (not so early) and went bouldering on the beach about 300 yards down from the house. Here I'm doing some not-so-deepwater soloing; in some circles it's called puddle soloing (as long as those circles are shaped like my head)...

More examples of the rocks we were on:

And a view of the cove we bouldered in (much bigger than it seems in this shot):

Later we went boogieboarding on a beach about 300 yards in the other direction, which as it turns out, was where two people had died earlier in the day. One of their bodies was still on the beach, covered with a sheet. There was a crowd gathered around, but nobody looked sad. It was a little odd.

As we arrived, the police were driving their policemobile down the beach making the children stay out of the water and warning people about riptides. I set up my stunt kite and started flying it, while two others in our group took the boogieboards out, ignoring the warnings. They reported no riptide, and pretty good conditions, actually, so I set my kite down, coiled up the strings beside it, and went out.

I'm still baffled as to how the drownings took place. My best guess is that one person tried to save the other and failed, although my friend suggested an alternative theory involving the opposite sort of plot, where one individual with sinister intent tried to drown the other and the victim succeeded in dragging the murderer with him/her to the miry depths. It's fun to hypothesize, although difficult to do so while maintaining respect for the lost lives of those being hypothesized about.

Meanwhile, my kite was on the beach noticing the approaching tide, and doing its best to get the attention of anyone who would listen. When nobody came to its rescue, rather than calmly handling the situation like any normal person, it panicked. By the time someone actually did pull it out of harm's way it was inconsolable, and had managed to tangle its string set into a hopeless collection of knots and rat's nests. When I finally came out of the water, I gave the kite a severe reprimand, and ended up spending at least an hour, or perhaps two, since I was occupied so long that I lost track of time, untangling the two 100ft lines. Let this be a lesson to you: wind your kite strings back onto the card when you are not using the kite. This will be particularly helpful if you are not as skilled at disciplining inanimate objects as I am.

Ok, so I had had my fill of anthropomorphism for that day, and went back to the house to eat and chill for a while. To end the story, the next day we hung around a while more, took a trip to some local cliffs to see what was there, didn't climb, went boogieboarding a bit more, and drove through the border into America.

Here, I must pause to comment on that experience. Leaving America is no big deal. Mexico doesn't care if Americans come to visit. Coming back to America is another story.

The line of cars to cross the heavily-guarded border runs for miles and miles. Nothing but stop and go traffic with more stop than go. As a result of these miles and miles of stop and go, a subculture of people has sprung up and thrives at the border crossing.

Well, "thrives" may be the wrong word. Anyway, this may be old news to most who are reading this, but it was new to me. As you drive along, there are vendors at the sides of the highway, and many walking in between lanes on the highway. Some of them offer to wash your windshield, some of them offer to sell you food, some of them carry desks, chairs, shirts, or other random items along on the off chance that there is an American somewhere looking to buy something cheap.

Some of them seek charity. As we rolled along, we were literally passed by an old man in a wheelchair. I wish I had taken a picture; it was a little surreal. Then there are little girls who juggle while walking beside your window, they lean on the glass and look forlorn whenever you stop. There are mothers with their babies wrapped up, who hold cups for you to put coins in as you pass.

It's an entire subculture of people, seemingly raised in that environment, and destined to stay in that environment. I suppose things like this are common in the world, and it shouldn't be so fascinating to me since I *have* been out of my country before, but it is. Oh well.

So I'm back in America now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Halfdome and Lost Lake (Climbing Halfdome) - Yosemite National Park, California (August 2007)

Ok, so in my previous post, I wrote something to the effect that I was done climbing mountains for a while, but apparently, that was a lie. I'll tell you why.

I received a short voicemail from a friend in northern California last week with a statement along the lines of "I don't know what you're doing this weekend, but I think you should come to Yosemite, that's what I think." Along with that statement, it was implied that I should get in touch with two individuals in my area (Southern California) who would be making the drive up that weekend.

Since I'm currently doing little other than study for physical therapy boards, I decided to take the voicemail's advice and see what adventure Yosemite held in store for me. This would not be my first trip, but it would be the first opportunity I'd had to do actual rockclimbing there, and as a rockclimber, to go to Yosemite and not climb is bordering on sacrilege.

Upon contacting the voice from the voicemail for further information, it was determined that there was a probable ascent of Halfdome in the works. The route would be Snake Dike, which is a classic 8-pitch (a pitch = 200 feet) route, rated 5.7R (R = runout) on the south face of the mountain. It's an easy climb, but psychologically difficult due to having little protection for the lead climber. There can be as much as 100 feet between bolts, and a fall from 100 feet above your last protection equals a 200 foot drop. Thankfully, I'm not a lead climber, so I wouldn't have to worry about that.

So, after contacting the two friends I'd be riding up with, and determining that we would leave around 9:00 Friday morning to get to Yosemite in the early evening, we got on the road around 11:00 Friday morning. Our start was a little later than planned, but no harm done, as we still managed to meet our other party and do a couple of short climbs in the valley that evening.

We then proceeded to our campsite, which had been procured by the voice from the voicemail after he put our names on a waiting list earlier in the day. We'd been #10 on the list, and still managed to sneak in for a spot. So we made a little pasta for supper, threw out a tarp, and set out to sleep under the stars with a 5AM start ahead of us in the morning. As we were lying there, I saw the most impressive falling star I've ever seen (this was the weekend of the Perseid meteor showers, so the one I saw must have been an early one). Looking up at the sky through scattered shadowy evergreens, I realized that I could suddenly see all of the trees as if it were midday. I looked to my left over halfdome, and saw the source of the light, which was a giant fireball flying slowly down toward the horizon. Prior to that, any falling stars I had seen consisted of tiny dots quickly streaking across the sky. This one was much better than that, especially given the circumstances and location of its siting.

Anyway, we woke up very early the next morning to pack up camp and get on the trail. Unfortunately, this upset a rather irritable grouch which was tent-camping in the site next to us. In spite of our best efforts to remain quiet, we had managed to wake him up, and he angrily called out, "Are you about finished yet?" with the implication that we should have been done before we started.

We replied that we were leaving and sorry to have awoken him, at which point he remarked that it was too late for that now. Since it was too late for us to feel sorry for having awoken him, I immediately stopped, and continued about my business. As I was brushing my teeth in the camp restroom, he scowled his way in to relieve himself. I left and finished loading my things in the car, and while doing so, noticed him return to his campsite and lean against a tree so he could commence scowling at us as we pulled away.

One of the realities of camping in a large campground in the middle of summer in one of the most popular national parks in the world is that there are other people. Lots of them. Other people have different schedules from your own. Deal with it. If you can't, then you better take up backpacking in the backcountry. I may pity da' foo, but I won't pity you.

So our group convened at the start of the trail:

We proceeded up past Vernal Falls:

We veered off the main trail just before reaching Nevada Falls, and headed out on the approach route through a side canyon:

We eventually reached Lost Lake, which seemed to me more a meadow than a lake:

From there, we went around to the left to finish our 6-mile approach to the climb. You can see Snake Dike below with a couple of climbers on it:

Then, we headed up:

Eventually, we did make the summit:

And walked down the cables, which, having done it now, I really think is not something inexperienced climbers should be attempting en masse, as is generally the case (I found out after we got back that a tourist had taken a fatal fall in June, sliding from the top of the cables down and off the left side of the picture below):

From that point, it's a nine mile hike back to the cars, and my feet were suffering in a new pair of approach shoes that hadn't been broken in. As a result, I was definitely the slowest of our group, and ended up with multiple blisters on both feet. I had two on the tops of the 4th digits of each foot, one large one on the balls of both feet, one on the bottom of each big toe, and one on the side of my left heel. Fortunately, only the ones on my 4th digits opened, and the others have since healed.

All in all, it was an epic adventure, and I thoroughly recommend, for those who are able, climbing, rather than hiking, Halfdome.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Feadog or Irish Whistle - Lightpainted (July 2007)

So I set a goal to climb the "3 highest*" peaks in Southern California within a week's time. This occurred on a whim last weekend while climbing Mt. San Antonio (aka Mt. Baldy) with an elevation of 10064ft. I was with a small group, and we took the Baldy Bowl trail to the top, then continued across the top and down the Devil's Backbone, which I highly recommend for its brief, but impressive route along a sharp, exposed ridge with steep drops on either side. Considering the mountain is an hour from Los Angeles, and walking across the top feels like another world entirely, it's a worthwhile experience. Our group summited at around 5:00PM on Saturday.

The next peak on my agenda was San Jacinto (aka San Jacinto) at 10,834 ft elevation, which I had climbed twice previously, so doing it this time was a minor formality, and I did it solo on Wednesday after giving my legs a chance to recover from Baldy. I finished in roughly 4 hours, which was a personal record, although I hadn't really kept track of my other times. So far, I've only climbed it using the shortest route available, which is from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (~11 miles round trip). Someday I may do the route from the base of the mountain in Palm Springs, but that will be in the far distant future.

The last peak, San Gorgonio (aka Old Greyback) at an elevation of 11,502ft would prove to be the most difficult, and a day and a half were set aside to conquer it. The trail I chose to do is, without a doubt, the best trail in Southern California, and I'm not at liberty to say which trail it was, as it's not on any maps. It's a secret trail, so to speak, passed down from generation to generation until it now exists in most minds as a mere myth, and though it is well-hidden, I am here to attest to its existance and the existance of Shangri-la in SoCal.

The trail was good. It was long (~24 miles round trip, or 12/13ths the length of a marathon!). Our group of three made it to the top, summitting around 3:00PM, thus completing my week's goal, and got rained on. Who would have guessed that could happen in Southern California in the summer? Then we plunge-stepped our way back down toward the car. I fell in a river on the way. Turns out one can choose a better method of crossing than a large slippery and slightly decomposed log angled at 45 degrees down a hill toward the water at which point one has to jump to a second slippery, even more decomposed log sticking out from the opposite shore. So, I got wet. It wasn't even graceful. I did manage to save my backpack from entering the miry depths...

We drove back home, and when attempting to get out of the car, my legs took a few moments to begin functioning again. It turns out hiking up and down a mountain trail 12/13ths as long as a marathon does a number on one's legs. I've decided I'm done climbing mountains for the foreseeable future.

* The three peaks generally recognized as the highest are Mt. Baldy, San Jacinto, and San Gorgonio, although there are nine peaks around San Gorgonio which are higher than Mt. Baldy, and five of those are higher than San Jacinto. I wasn't up to doing 11 peaks in a week, although I'm told there is a guy who does the 9 around San Gorgonio in one day, which he does on a weekly basis. I'm 100% certain I will never do that.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lamps - Casa del Prado, San Diego (June 2007)

Recently, friends of mine needed a ride to the airport on a somewhat short-notice basis. Having been in a similar situation, I gladly agreed to take them. They were willing to drive their own car, and I would simply be required to ride along to the airport, then return the car to its rightful place in their driveway. Simple enough proposition...

I arrived at their place, helped toss the luggage in the car, and hopped in the back. I brought along the latest issue of "Climbing" magazine, and browsed through it on the way, not paying attention to much else. The drive was relatively uneventful, aside from the occasionally stop-and-go rush hour traffic on Interstate 10.

We pulled up to the passenger unloading dock, promptly unloaded, exchanged the keys, and bid each other adieu.

At this point, I opened the driver's side door, maneuvered myself into the seat, looked down, and realized I was facing an unexpected dilemma. The car had suddenly grown a stickshift. Where had that come from?!

One might expect an individual known widely as "Enlightened Fellow" to be well-versed in handling a manual transmission. "Enlightened Fellow" would like that same person to stop with the unreasonable expectations.

So, what did I do? I had options: laugh hysterically, cry uncontrollably, dash into the airport and tell my friends to drive their own silly automobile home... Tempting as all of these were, I simply told myself there was no choice but to teach myself to drive stick that very instant.

Now, I have played with cars with manual transmission before, so I had the basic concepts, but the 10 Freeway in stop-and-go rush hour traffic is not generally where most people learn to put those concepts into practice.

Pulling away from the curb was enlightening. My first attempt resulted in a giant lurch followed by a sudden whiplash-inducing halt.

"Ok, that's not how to do it."

"Let's give it a little more gas."

This resulted in another bigger lurch followed by a series of smaller, but no less attention-grabbing lurches which lasted until I had pulled out into the street and cleared the end of the airport unloading dock. I didn't even look to see who might be staring at my unusual driving style. This being Southern California, they may have just mistaken me for yet another freak in a pimped-out ride, driving with hydraulics.

Alas, the Saturn I was driving was not pimped-out in the usual sense (only in the sense that it was *me* who was "driving" it).

Because, I'm a pimp?

Ok, not funny...

Eventually, the lurching subsided, and I managed to get into gear shifting. I even made it to third gear before reaching my first stoplight. Never before had a stoplight taken on such monumental significance, though I'm well aware we're all slaves to the traffic light.

Stopping at a stoplight means that one must also commence going afterward, and if one fails to commence, one suffers the wrath of the jerk behind oneself driving his fancy automatic transmission and honking his horn with reckless abandon. Thankfully, nobody honked, and I only stalled once at any stoplight on the journey home. Still, my starts were little more graceful than my departure from the airport.

But I was still facing Interstate 10 and rush hour traffic...

I managed to navigate the onramp with relative ease, and even merging into slow-moving traffic ended successfully. However, I was growing tired of starting from a dead stop. I didn't seem to be getting much better at it, although I was managing to keep the lurches down to one with each start. Being that traffic was moving on and off the entire way home, I adopted a strategy to limit my stops. I began slowly following the car in front of me by a distance approaching 200 yards.

Now, that could beg the question, "What draws more attention to oneself? Following the car in front of you at long distance when everybody else is firmly stopped behind the car in front of them, or starting your car into motion with a giant lurch?"

Unfortunately, I can't answer that question, and really don't care. I only mentioned it at all because you were thinking it, and if you weren't you should have been.

The fact that I am now writing this is testament to my safe arrival home and successful learning to drive a stickshift. I'm now incorporating my method into a book: The Enlightened Fellow's Guide to Learning Manual Transmission: Not for Idiots.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Joshua Tree - Joshua Tree National Park, CA (February 2007)

In addition to this photograph, I'm also posting a bit of original poetry which struck me today. I don't know from whence it came, neither know I where it will rest, but here it is for now:

Filled with Dreams of the Skies, I Thought

Filled with dreams of the skies I thought

Mind pondered birth the seas had wrought

There perched upon low earthen bluff

Plodding surf not swift enough

For thought adrift toward distant height

And thither my steps were next to bend.

Filled with dreams of the skies I thought

Alit where crow and eagle fought

Peering down on slope below

With eyes near shut from glare of snow

An arbor green I spied, in spite

And thither my steps were next to bend.

Filled with dreams of the skies I thought

Amongst the leaves sweet Spring had brought

Soon brown, as sap escaped to grave

Thoughts wont to ebb in same strange cave

An undesired fate, this blight

But thither my steps were next to bend,

thither my steps were next to bend.