The RV Project

"There Are No Wrong Roads to Anywhere"

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Highballing Success and Failure

The day after the Luminance session, I was standing underneath Grandpa Peabody with a sea of people. Josh, Mark, Max and Steve were all looking into topping out Evilution, myself and a few others were trying to get to the lip, and several people were watching. Elliot, who was with us at Luminance, had been top-roping the old-school Dale Bard solo Transporter Room (5.12ish). Shortly before the sun went down, he stepped up and calmly waltzed up the climb.

There is a nice crimp rail at about 20 feet that Elliot got to and stood on, hands-free. Then a couple of dicey slab moves followed. We, the spotters, were somewhat nervous, of course, but he was solid enough to make the entire climb seem almost trivial, as though going through the moves were pure formality. It was inspiring.

A few days later, I read confirmation in Wills’ blog that Elliot had succeeded in putting up a new line to the left of Transporter Room, called The Elevator. Elliot told me he was working on yet another new line. I asked if he wanted to get video of his send, and he eagerly agreed to letting me film him.

On Friday, December 21st, I jugged up a line and filmed Elliot as he cleaned the holds and worked the moves on toprope. The crux comes at about 20 feet or so, involving some tiny holds and hard-to-see feet that are needed to pull around the bulge and onto a scooped slab. He fell many times attempting the crux, but it was his last day before heading back to Santa Cruz. As the sun set behind Mt. Humphries, he stacked pads on the bush underneath the fall zone and pulled into the double kneebar that starts the route.

Elliot made it through the easy opening sequence without incident, then launched into the crux involving a long pull-thru on a small right hand crimp to a bad sloping left-handed edge, a tiny little nipple for the right hand, and dicey high-steps on hidden footholds. The crowd held its breath, and as Elliot hesitated, someone said “you got it, man.” His foot slipped a little. He was 20 feet off the deck in freezing cold conditions.

He reset his foot and stepped determinedly into the scoop that marks the end of the hard climbing, letting out a a few words of relief mixed with triumph. ZAP was thusly born. (Soon we’ll have a video featuring the new route) Elliot later said that hearing the one reassuring comment from the ground was a big help.

Elliot enters the crux of ZAP, over a sea of pads hovering above some bushes.

Elliot enters the crux of ZAP, over a sea of pads hovering above some bushes.

Elliot cruises up the finishing slab of ZAP, as the sun sets.

Elliot cruises up the finishing slab of ZAP, as the sun sets.

The next day was a cold one in the Buttermilks, but having watched plenty of hard climbing and having rested for two days, I was ready to try some things. Vikki and I warmed up at the Shrimp boulder, where we met a Frenchman named Jeff. He was obviously pretty strong, and the day was looking good. After a good warmup including a repeat of Saigon, I convinced him to spot me on Saigon Direct.

Saigon Direct is an obvious highballer’s testpiece, with big moves between pretty good holds high up in the air. The boulder’s prow is tall and proud, with an incredibly enticing pinch-brick sticking out at around 16 feet or so. The landing is flat, but the fall-zone is quite large given the height and unpredictability of the fall.

On my first try, I got set up for the big move up to the pinch, but backed down since I’d messed around far too long on the relatively easy opening sequence. I rested, then pulled on and got to the big brick. It felt good. I chalked my left hand and brought it in to match, anticipating the foot-shuffle and the final crux, a big right-hand move around the corner.

At that moment, both my feet came off as though someone hit a switch: at the same instant, and totally unexpectedly. I had time to say “Oh Shit!” and spot my landing as I swung out from the wall. At the apex of my swing, I either dropped off or slipped off (I’m not sure), and fell.

Jeff had just moved the three pads away from where I landed, and my feet hit the ground with a loud crunch. My knees buckled, and I rolled onto my back.

There’s a moment when someone takes a fall where those watching tense up, the spotters panic, and the climber assesses his injuries. Even a small fall occasions this group reaction, and for good reason: ankles have been broken from 2 foot falls. In my case, I immediately knew my heels were bruised. Imagine standing on a basketball hoop and jumping to the ground, in tight-fitting climbing shoes.

I wanted to immediately reassure everyone. It’s a weird moment. All eyes are on you, and the last thing you want to do is make everyone panic. I said I was fine, my heels were probably pretty bruised, but I’d be fine in a few minutes. I limped over to the pads to rest, and to let my heart stop fluttering.

Five minutes later, my heels still hurt. More distressing was the fact that trying to put weight on my left foot, even five or ten pounds, was impossible. It felt like my tendons were pulling directly on the bruise and making it worse. After about fifteen minutes of denial, I came to the realization that I would not be climbing the rest of the day. Vikki packed up our stuff, and I put an empty crashpad on my back and hopped on my right foot back to the car. We spent the remainder of the day at a friend’s house, icing my foot and shooting the breeze.

I woke up the next morning in pain. My heel throbbed and no amount of squirming or elevating would help it. Ibuprofen took the edge off, and we went into town so that Vikki could work a shift from the new Black Sheep. It was apparent that my injury was a little bit more serious that I’d hoped, and we went to the ER. X-rays were inconclusive, but a CT scan clearly revealed a broken calcaneus.

Getting X-rays on the foot.

Getting X-rays on the foot.

The nurses were wonderful and the doctor was quite friendly. There was even a climber named Ryan working there, whom we’d met at the Zoo recently. Mammoth and Bishop are accustomed to these types of injuries, so I knew I was in good hands. I was sent on my way with a splint on my lower leg and a prescription for Tramadol, which I didn’t even need.

A few days later, I saw Dr. Robinson, a climber, skier, and orthopedic surgeon. He told me that no knife would be required, and that I’d be able to bear weight in a few weeks’ time. It might be a year before I’m totally 100%, but that I could climb on a rope that day if I wanted…just no impact on the foot. He also gave me a removable Aircast, which is much more compact that the splint I had and which allows me to shower properly. Most importantly, he wrote me a note to take to the DMV, which provided me with a handicapped parking permit.


The come-up: Parking immunity and a pumped up kick

So of course this is a bummer. I can’t walk. I can’t carry anything. I can’t climb. I feel totally useless, as Vikki is forced to take up the slack. Besides that, Bishop has so many projects that I am close to completing, but I’ll lose the best part of the season and much of my strength as I recover. The good news, I suppose, is that I’ll be forced to properly rest my right elbow, which is still giving me a lot of trouble. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise?

Feeling down and freezing our asses off, Steve, Angie, Max, and the two of us loaded up Bert and drove down to Vegas for warmer temps, a change of scenery, and to hang out with the plentitudes of other climbing friends who are also in Sin City for the holidays. Yesterday I got the pleasure of crutching around the Kraft boulders and back into Gateway Canyon, a couple miles’ worth of tough terrain. Today I sit in a friend’s apartment taking a rest, letting the chafing in my armpits subside. Tonight, we party down for the New Year. Tomorrow, 2013 begins. I’m not sure what it’ll bring, but I do know I’ll have more time for video editing!


A Visit to an Inhabited Ghost Town


The start of a gorgeous stormy sunset.

The start to a gorgeous stormy sunset.

The view from the cabin at Mono Lake. Needless to say, it was difficult to leave.

The view from the cabin at Mono Lake. Needless to say, it was difficult to leave.

As Spenser mentioned, we took a much-needed break from climbing for some R&R at a friend’s cabin at Mono Lake. The cabin is on Cottonwood Canyon Drive, the same road that leads to the ghost town of Bodie. Given the opportunity, we could not ignore our curiosity to visit this old town. After a bit of research, we took a break from editing our latest video (finished product below) to look for an adventure. A ghost town always equals adventure, right?

It was a sunny yet crisp winter morning, so we bundled up and started the drive down the windy snow-covered road. Abruptly we hit a roadblock indicating we could drive no further. Sadly, the road to Bodie was closed for the winter. We could walk the 10 miles there and back if we wanted…

The Do Not Enter road block.

The road block that didn’t stop us.

Spenser looked at me and said, “I’m down if you are.” I nodded, and we trundled across some rocks to the left of the roadblock. We saw tire marks where we left ours, so we knew we weren’t the only ones to have ignored the roadblock. Thoughts of us getting stuck in the mud a la Massachusetts popped into my head, but I quickly suppressed them. We were looking for an adventure, weren’t we?

As we continued the drive down the road, you could sense we were both pleased with ourselves but nervous nonetheless. The kind of unsure satisfaction that always comes with breaking the rules. Those thoughts were quickly taken over by the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us on this seldom-visited dirt road.

The road to Bodie.

The road to Bodie.

After about 7 miles, we ran into another roadblock, this one we could not go around. It was a locked metal gate with a road of increasingly muddy proportions on the other side. We grabbed the cameras and started the hike. Almost immediately we could see Bodie in the horizon.

Bodie appears on the horizon. It was further than it looked!

Bodie appears on the horizon. It looked much closer than it was!

We trudged, slipped, and skated our way down the icy road towards the ghost town. Our excitement rose with every uneasy step we took. Suddenly cutting through my thoughts of ghost movies I’ve seen, Spenser says, “Do you see the flickering lights?” Sure enough, there were flickering lights in the barn.

I was immediately nervous. No, I didn’t think there were ghosts (why would they need lights, silly!). Maybe it was a squatter? No matter what, I felt like it was definitely someone who did want us invading his or her home. As we got closer, I realized I was right…but in a completely different sense.

In all my excitement I had forgotten that Bodie, although touted as  ghost town, was now a state park. During the summer, parents can take their kids there to give them a bit of a scare. During the winter, there are two rangers that live in Bodie to give trespassers like us a scare. As we walked past the admission stand touting a sign for a $7 fee (a bit steep, in my mind), a ranger truck drove from the barn directly towards us. A young guy, about our age, stepped out and Spenser was the first one of us to reach him. They immediately did not see eye-to-eye.

The ranger asked if we had gone around the initial roadblock, which Spenser truthfully answered yes. Then talk about giving us a ticket for the misdemeanor began. Spenser tried to reason with him that the roadblock was unnecessary at this time of the year since weather had been mild – the road was neither muddy nor dangerous. The ranger would not have it. I saw this conversation heading in a negative direction, so I quickly and gracefully (not) lumbered through calf-height snow to where Spenser and the ranger were in disagreement. Yes, the road was neither muddy nor unsafe, but it was obvious that the argument with the ranger was one that he was not going to let us win. Also, we really can’t afford a ticket a right now.

Plan B: apologize and act innocent. Statements such as, ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘we didn’t mean to inconvenience you,’ and ‘we were told to come here by the friends we are staying with at Mono Lake,’ came from my mouth. Whatever was said worked well enough.

The mood between the three of us lightened as Ryan, the ranger, told us of a man dying while trying to get to Bodie during the winter season a few years ago. This is why our tax money is paying for the rangers to be stationed at Bodie year-round. Ryan decided not to give us a ticket after all (stating he didn’t want to anger the locals that we were staying with), but exercised his authority by not letting us venture further into the not-so-ghost-town since we “broke the rules.” We snapped a few photos and started the walk back.




As our boots crunched in the snow, we chatted about the unexpected encounter we just had. We were happy to not have a ticket, but a bit annoyed that Ryan wouldn’t let us check out a single building in Bodie…mostly just because he could. Authority is a funny thing. And figuring out how to appropriately deal with it is an art that both of us are still trying to learn. What we agreed upon was that, if we had truly wanted to tour Bodie, we should have asked Ryan more questions about his life. What was it like living in Bodie year-round? How many of us hooligans did he have to turn away? He wasn’t a mean guy, he was just following ‘the rules.’

As we arrived back at Bert, we had satisfied our disappointment by convincing ourselves we could have gotten a tour – if we had continued to chat Ryan up. Today was not that day, though.

What stories do y’all have about dealing with authority? Any tricks or pointers to share on reading people you have just met? We think we learned something in Bodie, but we want to learn more!

Supreme Badassery

During the past few days, our own climbing has taken a little bit of a backseat to other goals. We spent a little bit of time in Mono Lake relaxing and also doing some soul-searching. The primary question is “What is the RV Project?”, or more accurately, “What the F&¢% are we doing?” Filming and taking photos takes a toll on your concentration, and with only two of us, capturing our own sends is, quite frankly, very difficult. We have no desire to film ourselves on problems we can easily do. We have no desire to just film everything that other people do either…that’s no fun for us and not worth the time and energy required. We have no desire to just climb for ourselves. That’s fun, but I feel it shortchanges our opportunity. 

Long story short, we decided to focus on our own climbing. We’re in the best climbing area in the US with ample opportunity to train our weaknesses. We have a whole new grade-range of projects to try. We have climbing partners. Life is good. And if one of us is about to do something at our limit, we’ll film it.

That said, since we have so much time here and since it is the season, we are also keeping our eyes open and ears to the ground. Hang out around the Peabodys and some strong ass people will show up and they will more likely than not be trying something amazing. If there’s a good story to be had, a chance to record something truly historic, we would gladly offer our (admittedly limited) documentary skills and equipment to preserve the zeitgeist of this season.

We met Elliot Faber when Alex Johnson came through town and waltzed up Luminance. He was the caboose on the 5-car send train that day. A few days later, we watched him tip-toe up the seldom-repeated Transporter Room, the famous 5.12X that was first free-soloed by Dale Bard in the late 80s, and repeated by very few others. A few days after that, Elliot landed on DPM’s website for climbing a new line just to the left of Transporter Room, calling it The Elevator and grading it V5X. 

Today he worked the moves of another new line, this just to the left of The Elevator and sharing the start. After getting to the good jug flake, it moves left into a sloping amoeba-shaped hueco and into a difficult crux involving a scummy knee-bar, double gastons, and a sketchy rock up onto a slab. After that, it’s just some palm-down slab climbing up a scoop 30 feet above a spiky clump of bushes, leading to the summit of one of the coolest damn boulders on the planet.

Without trying to put any pressure on him to succeed, I asked if he’d allow us to film his attempt and get some interview footage to round out a short vignette about the climb. He agreed, and tomorrow he’ll go for it.

I can’t say how excited I am for this. The climbers we’ve filmed the past few weeks are, without a doubt, brave and humble. They don’t spray about themselves on the internet. Speaking with Dan Beall today, he sounded like he needed convincing that he’s one of the better climbers out there. Meanwhile, he’s quietly ticked nearly everything there is to tick in Bishop, including The Swarm (V13/14) and the FA of Misdirection (V14). He is (also quietly) working on topping out Blood Meridian/Social Distortion (depends on who gets to name it!). 

All the pros we worship are impressive and deserving, to be sure. However, it’s the people with lives, jobs, careers that impress me even more. They show me that we aren’t limited by lack of sponsors, or having too long a drive to the boulders. We are all limited by ourselves.

Bishop Times

Vikki and I are now nearly three weeks into our Bishop stay. It has changed since I first came in 2004. Weekends now consistently see 100-car days in the Buttermilks. The Loco Frijole (aka Terrible Taqueria) is now Holy Smoke, a tasty Texas BBQ joint. There’s a taco truck at Barlow and 395. There are piles of feces to be found all over. Some petroglyphs were stolen. Black Sheep just moved down the street.

Don't panic! They've just reopened at 232 North Main Street.

Don’t panic! They’ve just reopened at 232 North Main Street.

Much remains the same. All of the land around Bishop is spoken for by various government agencies, so the town will remain quaint. Schat’s is still making people fat, Looney Bean is still run by adorable underage girls, and the Pizza Factory still has the best arcade in town. The sun still casts hyper-saturated colors on the clouds when it dips behind Mt. Tom, and deer are still a common sight around Buttermilk Mountain.

Every Bishop trip prior to this one, was marked by the same longing for more time. It felt like home, yet it never could be. We always had to return to our cities.

Now we have planted our temporary roots to join the “seasonals,” a loose network of obsessed boulderers hoping to unlock the secrets of strength and badassery. Now we live here.

Vikki celebrates after putting down Fly Boy Arete, her long-term project

Vikki celebrates after putting down Fly Boy Arete, her long-term project

We’ve been climbing mostly with our friends Steve and Angie. Our abilities and psyche match up quite well. There are also our Canadian friends in the Pit, whom we also climbed with in Joe’s Valley; there are many long-term Pit-dwellers; and of course, every weekend brings dozens of Bay Area climbers.

Grabbing the gritty pinch on Fly Boy Arete (V5)

Grabbing the gritty pinch on Fly Boy Arete (V5)

Vikki making the last big span on Fly Boy Arete (V5)

Vikki making the last big span on Fly Boy Arete (V5)

Climbing-wise, it’s been a bit bi-polar. Vikki totally destroyed her long-term goal, Fly Boy Arete (which, by the way, is one of my favorite V5s in all of Bishopdom). She crushed it so convincingly that it was anti-climactic. She’s now tackling some loftier rigs, such as Fly Boy Sit, Green Wall Center and the perennial favorite High Plains Drifter. She’s also nearly sent Serengeti, which will be great for her to do so she never has to do it again.

Angie Bradshaw convincingly crushes Fly Boy Arete (V5)

Angie Bradshaw convincingly crushes Fly Boy Arete (V5)

Flannery Shaw-Nemirow sticks the lip of Fly Boy (V8). She's house-sitting our trailer while we're gone.

Flannery Shaw-Nemirow sticks the lip of Fly Boy (V8). She’s house-sitting our trailer while we’re gone.

I made it my goal here to get good at crimping, come hell or blown tendon. So far I haven’t hurt fingers, but I still feel awful on small holds. I must remember that strength is a long-term, cumulative thing.

I have managed to do a couple of cool things, though. Xavier’s Roof went down fairly easily for Steve and I (and the homie Jeremy Ho is stupidly close). We both managed to send Beefcake, which for me was one of the most frustrating projects ever. Two distinct cruxes with a terrible, awkward, dabby topout meant I was consistently getting reasonably close but feeling like it was miles away. The Beef cave is now a friend, and we will be using it for training. We also did Slunk, a rather attractive line above the Sads upper parking lot.

Steve Bradshaw works the moves of The Mystery (V11/12).

Steve Bradshaw works the moves of The Mystery (V11/12).

Steve surfing up the clean arete of Slunk (V9)

Steve surfing up the clean arete of Slunk (V9)

While we have succeeded on many projects, others continue to elude. Haroun and the Sea of Stories will not go down easy, nor will The Mystery. Yet both require crimping, hence I shall throw myself at them until my elbow shatters.

Speaking of which, we are crunchy. Vikki’s had a hard time doing her physical therapy, and I have been less than diligent as well. My elbow now makes a sound like penguins dancing in a bed of pea gravel. Vikki’s left shoulder is tightening up. We try to adhere to a day on/day off schedule, but even in this modest task we often fail. When I split a tip the other day, we decided it was time for a break.

So now we’re in Mono Lake, staying at a friend’s cabin. The week will be spent doing rehab, organizing and editing footage, and relaxing. We’re even taking a break from caffeine.

The ghost town of Bodie.

We took an off-season visit to the ghost town of Bodie.

We’ll be back in Bishop for the weekend, when many friends descend upon the boulders and we all climb hard. I can’t wait to climb with our renewed psyche and refreshed muscles! It was starting to feel like we were forcing ourselves a little bit…the balance was out of wack.

Oh, and keep an eye out for some videos! Here are some more photos for your enjoyment:

Jho gives the Xavier's Roof finishing jug a tickle

Jho gives the Xavier’s Roof finishing jug a tickle

Chewing on my knees

Chewing on my knees

Rob demonstrates why they call it Fly Boy.

Rob demonstrates why they call it Fly Boy.

Flannery and Angie talk beta.

Flannery and Angie talk beta.

Clouds blowing in over the Sierras

Clouds blowing in over the Sierras

The More You Have

Now that we’re back on the road, it’s very clear that Spenser and I are both happier living life in our little trailer – dubbed Oscar the Grouch (to stay with the Sesame Street theme).

I’ve been thinking about why we’re in such better spirits away from the creature comforts we used readily in Colorado. The most comprehensive answer I have come up with is the more you have…the more you want. If I have a shower across the hall, I apparently will use it every day. If I have a big kitchen, I will eagerly choose to ignore it whenever the opportunity to go out to eat arises. These and other characteristics that I disliked about myself when living in San Francisco came back in full force this summer.

Living in Fort Collins, just like living in San Francisco, had many positive aspects. It was easy-as-pie to do my physical therapy exercises. Heck, I was even able to find an awesome physical therapist in the first place! There was a gym in the garage of Brad’s apartment. There was gluten-free food on every street corner. Spenser was able to do the construction for the truck and trailer with ease since Brad had every necessary tool imaginable. Middle-of-nowhere Utah, or even Bishop, does not offer these amenities. We needed Colorado to be able to regroup after Byron’s departure.

And then we needed to leave. Leaving was difficult because we had created a home for ourselves in our Colorado. We especially didn’t want to leave the friends we had made over the course of the summer. After pushing back our departure multiple times, we finally left for Utah in the middle of October.

A double pie-iron is a necessity around a campfire. You can make anything! Sandwiches, eggs, steak...the possibilities

A double pie-iron is a Jack-of-All-Trades around a campfire. You can make anything – sandwiches, eggs, steak…the possibilities are endless!

Arriving at Joe’s Valley was a breath of fresh air. Literally. At the lower elevation we were chewing the air up! 😉

Anyway, life at Joe’s was incredibly relaxing. There’s nothing better than cooking over an open fire: all you need is aluminum foil and a cast-iron sandwich press (see pic above – many thanks to Rachel  & Jered for the amazing present!). A different group around the camp fire every night. Most conversations are a broken record of climbing jargon, but there are breakthroughs that can surprise you.

Overall, we immediately noticed we were more relaxed, yet motivated, back on the road. The biggest difference is that we are solution-oriented on the road. Things should be more difficult, so when they are – it’s not a surprise. A quote from Henry Ford comes to mind:

Don’t find fault, find a remedy.

It’s too bad we can’t transfer that positive energy to living in a city. Or is it? Cities don’t need more people anyway, right?!

Now that we are in Bishop, we’re even more at home. There are no nightly campfires like at Joe’s since the wood here is priced like gold. Which is, quite honestly, better for our productivity. Orangeville, Utah was welcoming, but we already know our way around Bishop. There was no need to research or get our bearings, we were able to get into the swing of things right away. We even get to see friendly faces we know from they Bay Area frequently, an extra bonus!

Washing dishes outdoors can be a pain in the arse, but you just need to find your groove. Our method: gloves (to protect our soft climbing hands) and a red bin.

Washing dishes outdoors can be a pain in the arse, but you just need to find what works for you. Our method: gloves (to protect our climbing hands and they just make washing grimy dishes more enjoyable) and a wash basin to minimize water usage.

We just always have to be mindful to not to let our road trip feel feel too much like a vacation! Especially since most people that surround us are on vacation. The freedom we have is a gift that we need to apply to something…something that will hopefully turn out great…

Here’s a quick video tour of our new trailer set-up:

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