Monday, February 28, 2011

The Dirtbag Diaries

On long drives I like to listen to podcasts. I recently discovered The Dirtbag Diaries podcast by Fitz Cahall and we listened to a bunch of episodes on our recent road trip. The podcast is sponsored by Patagonia and you may have seen it mentioned on their blog, The Cleanest Line. You can subscribe on iTunes.

The podcasts cover lots of different outdoor activities including skiing, climbing, kayaking, and conservation.

One of my favorite episodes so far is No Car, No Problem.

If you listen to podcasts and you like stories about the outdoors, give it a try. I really enjoy them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fun Kindle Ads

Great ads (even if that is somewhat of an oxymoron). And I do like my Kindles.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow

[by Shelley]
"Do these shoes go with this dress?" "Do my shirt and tie clash?" We're so timid when it comes to fashion. Instead we should learn from Mother Earth. She's beautiful because she's bold. At Bryce Canyon National Park, where she's applauded daily by an endless crowd of international critics, she sashays in a florid, orange-and- pink designer original by Dr. Seuss. -- WOW Guides, Utah Canyon Country by Kathy and Craig Copeland.

Leaving Zion we had just one more day to play before getting serious about heading home. We arrived at Bryce Canyon about 11:00 and again did a popular hike (Navajo Trail and Queen's Garden) which, being off season, was fairly quiet. Of course, the best times for photos are sunrise and sunset but I think we still got a few good ones and even at noon and into mid afternoon the funky spires and rock shapes and colors were absolutely amazing to look at. I won't even begin to try to describe them -- you'll have to look at the photos! We saw Thor's Hammer, Cinderella's Castle, the Flame, and Queen Victoria. I'm sure people's imaginations allow them to see much more!

The same guidebook points out that "this crazy, colorful land . . . was named after the region's first white settler, a Mormon farmer -- Ebenezer Bryce -- who was neither crazy nor colorful." However, I suspect Mr. Bryce had a dry sense of humor. According to a sign in the park he remarked of the canyon, "It's a hell of a place to lose a cow." I thought my Dad would get a laugh out of that one -- and also be able to sympathize with him!
Bryce Canyon

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zion National Park

[by Shelley]
We hit the road and left Vegas early in the morning to make our way over to Zion National Park in Utah. We've seen lots of photos of the area in climbing magazines so we wanted to have a look for ourselves. It was too cold for rock climbing and we just had time for an afternoon hike. We chose one of the more popular and scenic trails -- it's the off season and not busy so we didn't have to worry about it being crowded.

The trail up to Angel's Landing is rated as "strenuous" and although it's relatively steep, the vast majority of it is paved in order to prevent erosion. An interesting feature is the 21 switchbacks in the trail called "Walter's Wiggles" (named after some guy named Walter who designed them).

The great views just got better the higher we went. Utah is known for its amazing shades of red rock and Zion didn't disappoint. We looked at the sheer walls around us and wondered how many climbing routes there were. Surely, no climber could look at this place and not wonder what the best route might be.

The "for bad ass hikers only" part of the trail was the last 1/2 mile. It's narrow and very exposed! Although there are intermittent posts and chains to hang on to along the way and a few steps carved out of the rock, there are definitely some sharp edges with long vertical drops down to the canyon below. Our guidebook agrees that it's exposed but says that a stumble wouldn't do any harm. Well, we would certainly not want to be the ones to test out that theory! This part of the trail is definitely not for the inexperienced or faint of heart! The few people we did pass looked nervous. Especially on the sections that had ice on them for added excitement.

Once back at the car we did the scenic drive to the end of the canyon and got some better views and photos of the sheer cliffs below Angel's Landing.
2011-02 Zion

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Back at Red Rocks

[by Shelley]
We knew we had a couple more good days before the weather started to get cool again. Back to Red Rocks we went and onto another 3-star multi-pitch trad route called Birdland, located in Pine Creek Canyon. It was one of the warmest days yet as it was one of the few where we didn't have to put on an extra layer at some point. The route was 5 pitches (well, actually 6 but the 6th pitch is runout and not recommended). There were two guys from Milwaukee on the route ahead of us but they'd started far enough ahead that we didn't have to wait long for them and they were accommodating in sharing belay stations.

There were two harder pitches, rated the same, so Andrew and I each took one. I think Andrew got the hardest of them though, as it involved an unprotected traverse as opposed to a thin crack which allowed for lots of gear placements. Traverses are psychologically the worst. Not only could you take a big fall but a big swing as well!

It was a fun climb, we did it in good time and all was going well. The descent was to rappel the route and with one rap left to go, we thought we had it in the bag. Until one of our ropes got stuck as we pulled them down. Unfortunately, we hadn't thought to move around to the outside of a large crack system and pull the ropes from the front of the rock face. As we pulled we could see the rope land on various ledges within the crack system and go back in behind some rocks. Andrew tried flipping the rope, pull, flip, pull, flip. At one point I thought it was going to come but no such luck.

Since I had all the gear, Andrew put me back on belay on our other rope and I climbed back up (about 30 feet) to get the rope un-stuck. It was no easy task as the rope was wedged firmly into a thin crack between two rocks. I poked and prodded for quite some time. It's the first time I've ever had to use a nut tool to get a rope unstuck! I thought for sure we were going to have to cut it but eventually, after much cursing and knuckle bashing, it came free. We'll have to have a close examination of that rope before we use it again!

By this time, two other guys who had climbed another route but were using our descent route, came rappelling down and graciously allowed me to rap back down using their rope. Much easier than down climbing! One more rap and we were back down to the ground.

These two other guys were locals and asked us what our plans were for the following day. When we said we had just one day left in Red Rocks and would do some sport climbing they asked what grade we were looking for and recommended a new area that one of them had developed. Civilization Crags, at the first pullout of the scenic drive loop, isn't in any guidebooks yet but they told us a website to get the information.

We had a fabulous time! A bunch of one-pitch sport climbs that were well within our leading ability and a few that were a bit harder that we could top rope before deciding if we wanted to lead them. We did 11 pitches each which was definitely our most productive day and also the day we led the hardest routes of the trip! A great ending to the climbing part of the trip.

Our bodies, hands, and fingers are sore again . . . what a wonderful feeling!
2011-02 Red Rocks

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Joshua Tree National Park

[by Shelley]
We left snowy Silver City, New Mexico (-11c !) and drove all the way across Arizona to try to find some sun and warmth in Southern California - and to check out the climbing area of Joshua Tree.

We entered the park on the south side, stopped at the visitors center and purchased a climbing guide book Since it was already noon and most of the climbing is on the north side, we decided to do the hike into Lost Palms Oasis. It took us about 3 hours round trip (~ 8 miles / 13 km) along a relatively flat trail. There were a surprising number of people trail running. At the end of the trail the reward was a wonderful little valley full of huge palm trees. It was still a little cool but good for hiking.

Joshua Tree has the largest number of climbing routes of any area in North America. It's also notorious for sandbagged routes (i.e. the routes are actually much harder than the grade would indicate). And we learned that for people climbing here for the first time, trying to find the route you want to be on can be equally as daunting! (Even to a climber, one rock looks much like another!)

Our first climbing day we started at Johnson Canyon near the Indian Cove campground. We first decided to stay away from the campground because "ownership" rules apply. If there's someone staying in the campsite where the route you want to do starts or finishes, you have to ask permission.

Little did we know that the Canyon presented its own challenges! Things always look so nice on a benign map without any elevation markings. Just go and meander your way up and find something to climb. Yeah, right! Meander up and over, around and under boulders of various sizes up to car and small house sized! We managed to find the first sport climb we were looking for as it was on "split boulder" which really was a boulder split in half. We then hiked further up the canyon trying to find a couple more routes but it was near impossible to figure out what was what. They were supposed to be trad routes and we did find a couple bolted routes which didn't look too bad from the bottom so Andrew started up one but quickly decided this was out of our range.

We headed back down to the campground and found an area away from the campsites which had a few doable routes and we spent a very pleasant rest of the day there. As one local climber said to us, at Joshua Tree you just have to forget your pride and climb routes that are a couple grades easier than you would anywhere else.

The second day saw us over at Atlantis Wall at Last Horse Canyon, leading and top roping several fun climbs until it was time to head out. We drove back to Red Rocks via scenic back roads through the Mojave Desert arriving in Las Vegas to a beautiful sunset.
2011-02 Joshua Tree

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Silver City

[by Shelley]
After a couple days hiking and climbing around Phoenix, we got rained out and decided to head further south and east to the Gila Wilderness. The original plan was to do a multi-day hike around here but the weather forecast was lousy. We decided to check out the area anyway for future reference. The last 45 minutes of the drive to Silver City was in the dark and through a snow and wind storm. Visibility was nearly nil, it got icier and icier and the only way we could see where the road went was by the reflective posts at the side of the road.

But we arrived safe and sound and booked into the Palace Hotel. Built in the late 1800's it has a lot of interest and character to it. We asked the receptionist about places to eat and she first pointed out Isaac's across the street, highlighting the great bison burgers. When we said we were vegetarian she immediately said "Oh, you have to go to Shevek's." We did and it was awesome! Immediately upon entering, you pass through the small bar area and past the display full of handmade chocolates and desserts. The menu has three sizes of each dish -- tapa, mezze, and entree. We asked the waiter for vegetarian recommendations and almost half of the large menu was suitable. In order to try more things, we had the mezze size of the salad and tapas sizes of the other dishes:

Spinach, Cabrales Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad
with an aged sherry vinegar and walnut oil dressing.

Eggs with Fromage and Wild Mushrooms
soft scrambled eggs finished with freshly made fromage and topped with wild mushroom "caviar."

Spinach Briouats
traditional Moroccan street food. Spinach and herb-stuffed phyllo dough "cigar." Served with tzatziki on a bed of greens.

Grilled Stuffed Portabello Mushroom
with roasted red pepper pesto on a bed of greens.

Spicy Chickpea and Eggplant Stew
spiced with garlic, red pepper flakes and cooked in a sauce of roasted tomatoes and fresh herbs. Served over cous cous confit.

Accompanied by a nice Luna Rossa Shiraz, made locally at Deming, New Mexico. (We were impressed that the waiter recommended a local and quite inexpensive wine.) And followed by dessert of yummy chocolate cake with peach and raspberry filling. There were only a few people in the restaurant and the chef came out and chatted with us. Even the background music was good.

We might have to go back again tonight to try a few more of the options!

This morning after the included breakfast at the hotel we had coffee, tea and reading time at the Javelina Coffee House which is also in the Palace Hotel building. It's large and funky with an eclectic crowd. The doors are set deep into the building and there are raised window seating areas. The place is filled with assorted mismatched tables, comfy chairs, and couches, mostly of quite old vintage. There were people on laptops (free wifi), some seated at the in-house computer terminals, a group of women that appeared to be a conversational Spanish group, and a couple guys that I can only describe as "rubby dubs". It was an interesting mix!

We wandered the downtown area for a short while and since it was sunny decided that we should try to get out for a hike. We drove just 6 miles up the road to Pinos Altos only to find ourselves once again in the middle of snow, wind and icy roads. Ok, maybe we won't hike after all! We wandered some more, this time going into several of the art galleries, art shops and the museum. It's a very historic area with lots of old buildings and interesting architecture. There is lots of art around - as one of the locals told us, "Silver City is full of starving artists".

This is a really nice town and we definitely look forward to coming back when it's warmer and doing some hiking in the Gila Wilderness.

2011-02 Silver City

Apache Junction

[by Shelley]
After leaving the Grand Canyon we stopped in Apache Junction, just outside of Phoenix, for a couple days to visit my dad and stepmom. They have a winter home there just a few minutes drive from the Superstition Mountains. Since dad went hiking in Peru with us last year I wanted to get out with them for at least a short hike. We headed to Gold Canyon and hiked the Hieroglyphics Trail up to a waterfall. Unfortunately there wasn't much water running and it was a very popular trail (including an entire scout troop!) Lots of people were out on a warm, sunny Saturday morning. (Question - shouldn't it be "Petroglyph Trail" rather than "Hieroglyphics Trail"?)

By the time we did the hike and had lunch, it was a bit late for Andrew and I to get any climbing in but we headed over to Lost Dutchman State Park (only a few kilometers from Apache Junction) to check out the approach to a route we planned to do. But when we arrived the next day there were three people there getting ready to head up. Rather than wait for them to get far enough ahead of us and then be behind them all day, we headed off to find something else to do and ended up climbing "The Hand", a classic route in the Superstitions. It wasn't difficult but a nice climb up an arete (ridge) with lots of airy exposure! Andrew belayed from the top of the first pitch with one leg on each side - and I had to carefully tip toe around him, using his shoulders as "holds" to start the second pitch. One very long two-rope rappel brought us back down to the bottom.

We also did a one-pitch climb on "The Pickle", another interesting shaped spire near the Hand. A fun couple of days!

2011-01 Apache Junction

Contrasts in Hotels

We started off in Las Vegas at the Palms Casino Resort. We ended up there because it was one of Expedia's "unpublished deals" through Hotwire.  We've never had any trouble booking hotels through Expedia, but this time when we arrived they had no record of our reservation. We showed them the confirmation from Expedia but that didn't help. We called Expedia and got an extremely unhelpful person. First he tried to tell me it was the wrong date. I've always had a recurring fear of booking stuff on the wrong day so I had a moment of panic but no, I had the right date. Presumably the call center is on the other side of the date line. I got nowhere with the Expedia guy so I handed the phone to the Palms clerk. She didn't have much more success. She wanted him to fax the booking to her. He said he couldn't fax but he could email. But the Palms didn't seem to be set up for staff to receive email.

We didn't resolve anything, but the reception person gave us a room anyway, and even upgraded us to compensate for our trouble. Our room in the "Fantasy" tower was very nice, with a great view over the city (see photos). But typically, the more expensive the hotel, the more they try to add on extra charges - like $15 per day for wifi (which we didn't pay). The other downside was having to go through the noisy, smoky casino to get in or out of the hotel.

We went from the Palms to a much more mundane La Quinta. It was the weekend, with less deals available and we paid almost exactly the same price. The hotel and the room were nowhere near as fancy, but wifi and breakfast were included, and it was about 10km less driving through traffic to get to Red Rocks. (The weather was good enough to camp, but the campground close to Red Rocks is an unappetizing dust bowl.)

And now we're at the historic Palace Hotel in Silver City, New Mexico. The hotel is over 100 years old - a long way from either the Palms or La Quinta! If you want a spotless modern  hotel, don't come here. But if you want a small, local, quiet place with character, it's great.