Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Chequer-board of Nights and Days

Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California May 3rd - 14th, 2010

Preface and caveat –

                   This is a long and rambling disquisition which nobody will find interesting in all its parts. Some will skip over climbing minutia, others will roll their eyes at philosophical chestnuts laid out as if they were diamonds, and still others will declare that the Rubáiyát is such a cliché and a bore, like all things classical in these sophisticated decades we enjoy nowadays. And not everyone has any particular interest in the high desert or in astronomy. Still, it's certainly worth what you've paid for it, and well worth the paper it's not printed on! Good luck! If you become disoriented and dehydrated, just head downhill until you stumble over a refrigerator with beer in it.

– Dave

Your guide, Desert Dave.  Don't worry! He's totally reliable!

Alone. Weather: gorgeous. All day, every day.

May 3. AA Flt. 149 out of IAD – bag ~55lbs.

               Nonstop to LAX! Breakfast in Dulles at gate B-73, brioche, coffee gulped down. Sort of gauzy mosquito netting separating Biz class and steerage. Hail to our Benevolent Business Overlords! Here comes the New Coke, just like the Old Coke, etc.

              The mind is stumblebum, unclear, muddy, tracking a little erratically. Current Stats: age – 57, wt. ~ 175 lbs., bfp ~ 13%, bp ~ 125/80, cholesterol 186, resting pulse ~ 55. Pullups: 3 underhand, 3 overhand, pain in l. shoulder and elbow from 18 months ago. Left knee not bad but not as good as right knee. Back, neck, wrists, ankles and hands all good! Time's Wingéd Chariot, etc. – sadness, that arthritis might cut short the stellar, never-to-be-surpassed Carderock bouldering career of Geoff Farrar, now in his mid-60s. Ain't none of us gonna outrun it.

              But here I am again in JT, again, for the sixth time, after a long hiatus of nine years. Too long. This is the old climber's paradise. I am still somewhat capable: solid at 5.9, where once I was solid at 5.10a, and an even chance at 5.10b. Recent good climbs in Virginia: TR “Strong Finish” 5.10a, and “Armbuster” 5.9+, and soloed “Black Sun” 5.9.  Naturally I feel, like every climber, that a few weeks dedicated to nothing but climbing would quickly carve me into a chiseled machine, climbing better than I ever did, but this is probably just fantasy now.  However, such fantasy is necessary to avoiding that Slough of Despond that can swallow any of us in an instant, after the euphoric certainties of youth have been destroyed.

               More bad news – Chris developed a bad shoulder 2 weeks ago; he has never been here, and we've postponed until October. To solidify it I bought the 12-month Jtree pass, $30. So this resets the trip goals: if possible pick up partners, climb solo with gear, but mostly write, boulder, photograph, hike distant areas etc. Camping by the way is $10/site/night, cash only, first come first serve, limit 2 cars and six people. Monday am is a good bet for finding open spots.

Sun falling fast – must shoot the Cyclops across the way. I always photograph the Cyclops near sunset on every visit, almost involuntarily. More than most other crags, it projects the phantom image of a long-crumbled Roman temple, erected to honor forgotten gods of reason, wisdom and compassion. Near sunset it turns a pale gold, and later transmutes to copper. Named for a hole near the top of a huge central chimney/dihedral.

Awake! For Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight
and Lo! The Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

- Khayyám/Fitzgerald

May 4th Tune-up Day!

Sunrise – 6:08. Half-moon is very bright at 4:30 am, and I'm peeing in the moonlight.

“Over the great Gromboolian Plain,
Beautiful moonlight and silence reign.”

(slightly altered and stolen from Edward Lear, from “The Dong with the Luminous Nose.”) -

“When awful darkness and silence reign
Over the great Gromboolian plain,”

– which, oddly enough, I also like – that abstract plain of silence and darkness, free of all the ambiguous clutter of consciousness – a space full of potential, though not, I suspect, what Lear intended.

               Crows, matter-of-fact, flap by with the morning news. Obesity epidemic / humans on their way out / crows rule – the usual. Recalling coyote chorus around midnight last night – not too extended, just a couple of Te Deums, etc.

              Scruffy western chipmunk watches my breakfast like a hawk. I dub thee Scruffy, honorary climber mascot. Screw you, dirtbag, says he, giving the traditional salute.  I found his daddy's dry skull this afternoon. I'll keep it as a memento – Time's Wingéd Chariot, etc. How many generation of 'munks since my first visit in 1988? One or two per year?

7:15 pm – sunset desperately imminent. Went to get one last shot, and returned to find Scruffy raiding my nuts (leftover Brazil nuts).

               After dinner I am reminded of the overnight backpacking trip that Eamonn and I took in the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge, when he was only nine or ten. Lacking any water source, we scoured our dinner pans of mac-and-cheese residue with handfuls of the granitic sand at our campsite, which was so dry that after a few changes of sand the pots could be wiped perfectly clean without rinsing. I used the same technique today, though with a little water at the end.

               On my fourth attempt I stood on my pack, gaining six inches in initial height, and this allowed me to succeed without badly crushing the little finger in the turnbuckle crack. I went and played on some easier ground, thinking I'd give it up as lost; but I came back with a new willingness to crush Shorty, now that I had the correct sequence dialed in. My fifth attempt (starting back on ground zero) would have succeeded but for a microscopic misplacement of the left foot, and then, the sixth attempt was precise throughout, and an honest 'send'. I did, however have to leave, for the spirit of the boulder, a minor spot of blood from Shorty as a sacrifice.
                “Turnbuckle” is so named because when you slot the fingers of your right hand, facing upwards and to the left, into the angled, tapering undercling crack, and weight it, the fingers rotate down into the bottom of the crack, and the little finger is clamped as if ground into a buckle of that design. And you can stand there as long as you want, with the tips of your left fingers in a pitiful horizontal, but when you go you have to bring it all with you. Or at least I do.

Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
“Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry.

May 5th, Wednesday
Dawn comes over the hills to my tent at exactly 6:06 am.

                It's a simple miracle, and a simple god-analogue, but I like it.  The moon appears to be waning, hence good stargazing over the next week.

                Last night I scattered Brazil nuts and pecans for Scruffy, on the petulant, though squeaky, demands of his daddy's skull, now sitting on the table facing the risen sun. Let's call him Big Scruffy, or, if we like, Yorick, a good traditional skull name. The nuts are gone this morning – now they'll want my bear claws. Well, no matter. We are eating this world. Let's not begrudge them the scraps.

               Soon, though, the world will be about eaten up; we uneasily sense the imminence of that heart-stopping moment, as when the giant space frog eats the moon and nothing is left, for a short time, but a brown ghost-moon, hideous as any other death-image.

              An old birding couple just walked by, long lenses dangling, eyes vigilant, heads darting toward the birdsong from my tree. Birds in evidence: crows (as always), cactus finches, goldfinches of some kind, hummingbirds, mockingbirds. Some of them perch effortlessly in the vertical-spined crowns of the Joshua trees by rotating their claws outward and grasping two spines, as if they were walking canes. Later blue jays and turkey buzzards were seen; the buzzards seemed identical to those so common in Virginia.

              The heat waves thrown off by my stove are invisible to the eye, but not to the sun – they cast shadows on the boulder next to the table. Distortion, inevitable in the clearest medium – even empty space is warped by gravity. One might conclude that the concept of 'nothingness' has no true analogue in the physical universe – it is only a useful phantom necessary to balance the conceptual universe in which our consciousness must swim. Hence the word should always be undercut with apostrophes, and mocked with dual sets of bent fingers, as in 'Being and “Nothingness”' by J.P. “Sartre”. Or was it that wacky guy Kierkegaard?

Bird resembling a flicker, though smaller, scavenges bugs from the scaly 'bark' of the Joshua trees. Cactus wren?

The Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) is the largest North American wren, and is 18–23 cm (7-9 inches) long.  And he'll come right up and give you the hairy eyeball.

                 Last night we were treated to a solo performance by a member of the coyote chorus, which sounded very close by, as if perched on my picnic table. He or she would warble tunefully (I'm being polite here) and then the chorus would respond from a distant hillock, and faint echoes returned, or perhaps they were more distant coyotes. The concert only lasted a few minutes.

              The infinite variety of forms in the granite: what do we imagine them into? Here the head of a giant moray eel, there a breaking wave, and in the distance a breaching grey whale. One can look for whatever one most desires and eventually find it, if one walks the burning sands with eyes also burning with desire for that thing, whatever it may be, because the shapes formed by the rock, as seen by the continuously shifting angle of view of the eye and the mind's eye, are infinite in number. Do you want to see the Virgin Mary? There she is, head bent and cloaked. Surely God must have sent this as a sign.

              Or not. And don't call me Shirley.

              An odd feature high overhead on Chimney Rock, just behind my camp, appears at first as a crusty old scab or wart protruding from the side of a summit, weighing maybe a couple of tons. Closer examination transforms it into a decrepit heart, split down the middle and covered with scabbed-over wounds from a lifetime of betrayal and neglect.

9:30 am –
              Peter and Jayko, site 44. Peter had left a note on a bulletin board similar to mine, looking for partners, so I walked up and introduced myself.

They've just topped out on "Fun Stuff", 5.8, at Echo Cove.

                 Peter: a weatherbeaten yet youthful-appearing climber who turned out to be 50. Longish slightly graying hair, very lean. Reading a children's book to small boy Jayko. Might climb with him and friends to arrive later this week; his ambition, to climb “Leave It to Beaver”, 5.12b***** on Sports Challenge Rock in Real Hidden Valley. Left my card. From Canada. Cowboy hat, no facial hair. He dropped by a little later to make a date for tomorrow.

The Red Obelisk, deep in the mazelike Wonderland.

6:15 pm –
                  Spent 10:30 to 5:30 hiking the Wonderland, out past the Red Obelisk, and back via the Astrodomes and Barker Dam. Memorable item: tiny tadpoles wriggling madly in a tiny, shallow seep in the parched and stony ground. Desert blooming with life. Saw prints of bighorn sheep, in dried mud. Unbroken solitude except for gnome-like being encountered in the massive shade cast by the huge boulder called Don Juan, which overhangs on all sides: little old hiker, talkative, open, seemed lonely.  Likes Clint Eastwood films, Kurosawa, etc. Classic southern Californian named Robert, Ra for short. His motto: “All's well at Ra's well.” (pun on Roswell NM)

                 Frustrating traverse of nearly full west margin of Barker Dam lake as usual. Note: walk on dam-side instead if just passing through. Probably better to do Wonderland trail to Don Juan and then head west, even for “Room to Shroom”.

A wet spring this year; at Barker Dam.

                   The single eye of the Cyclops – the sun that sees us, that we see the world through. The eye on the pyramid; the mind's singular eye of consciousness. The eye therefore threatens the unconscious: the Tree of Knowledge, tainted fruit that causes children to question their parents, to leave the Eden of childhood, to go out to do battle with the Cyclops. Paradoxically the Cyclops can also represent the unconscious – it never sleeps (unless drugged by wine) – it sees everything, scrutinizes without understanding or compassion; it is treacherous and very big and dangerous. The conscious mind must adopt clever stratagems to survive in the cave of the unconscious, into which we are thrust every night and sometimes when awake as well. Another demonstration of Dave's Dictum #29: anything can be shown to be a metaphor for anything else if you put your mind to it.

Barrel Cactus

And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted – “Open then the Door!”
You know how little while we have to stay,
And once departed, may return no more.”

May 6th, Thursday
Right now: 5:55 am, temps in the high 40s.

               Ten minutes to the daily miracle. News crow on patrol as usual. No coyotes last night, or I begin to ignore them in my sleep. The news crow is a crow of few words: Sunrise in ten; humans doomed shortly thereafter.
               Oh – there go the coyotes at 6:00 exactly, somewhere well off behind the Cyclops. Sound carries really well. Moment of sunrise on camera – 6:04. We're in business, warming up already.  Time for oatmeal.  A statistic to think about: I am now using about 3 quarts of water per day for everything.

“Sunrise... surprise... Civilized Man... you were keeper to me. Now your animal is free...

Words/Music: Grace Slick
Sunrise Surprise
Civilized Man
You were keeper to me
Now your animal is free
you're free to die
Oh oh oh
You're old and your hands are gray
You're old, go home and stay
We've all heard your dirty stories
Two thousand years
Two thousand years
Two thousand years
Of your
God damned
                Grace Slick as Astarte,or Shiva, announcing the end of a cycle, inevitable destruction on its way. It seemed so juvenile, so hippie/dippie when I was 21, yet it still struck that perfect chord; this civilization so wrong, so inhuman, unnatural. We wanted something different – more organic, romantic, reasonable, smaller, quieter, truer and so forth. I've still got the album.

                 And here we are – 2010 – world population about doubled since that album came out – peak oil (probably) upon us now – unsustainability everywhere we look; overdue for another world cataclysm; pendulum swing longer and harder this time.


                So what else is new? Deal with it. It ain't the end of the world. Civilizations rise, and then they fall. But look out: Bonzo's got a gun – not a prop gun; a real gun with real bullets. 7 billion Bonzos got 7 billion guns, so to speak. Should this species have cheap energy, something comparable to oil?


                No. Don't give the monkey that fusion reactor. He'll just use it to make more monkeys. That's all he really wants to do – the final goal of all human activity – to increase the tribe. Simple genetic compulsion, shared by all life. The Big Taboo in all public debate.

               Aside – Scruffy is starting to think I'm harmless.  He just went into my tent for a look-see, then came and sat on a boulder 4 feet away and gave me the hairy eyeball.  I've scattered more unwanted nuts.

              Another aside – I'm now steeping an unused TazoTM teabag I found near the road. Will it be a magical Don Juan teabag left there by a shaman? Not likely. Visions/dreams are unconscious bullshit, but if you can embroider them into personal meaning, fine. We need closet organizers for the mind, and it doesn't really matter exactly how they're put together.

              So the monkeys have guns and they ain't letting go of them. They all want as many children as they can finagle. It's going to snap back on them. Every civilization overshoots its resource base and crashes, but all too soon reformulates with better tools and rebuilds the inverted pyramid even higher.

              Sound carries here. At sunset small groups of people tend to gather on the summit of the Cyclops a hundred feet above the desert floor (the back side is an easy slope). Their conversations are often intelligible from here, perhaps 200 yards away.

Livy, book XXI, chapter 62 – Prodigies (p.89)
“Shapes like shining ships appeared in the sky.”
!!! – UFOs even then, in 217 B.C.
Responses to the threatening omens included:
“Five victims of the greater sort were sacrificed to Genius...”

                 This was during widespread panic induced by the invasion of Italy by Hannibal. Human nature is a constant; all my readings of history, starting with Herodotus and Thucydides, have reinforced this conviction of mine. No amount of brilliant science, no wondrous technology, no rigorous logic and application of reason, can free more than a few of us from the tendency to see shapes like shining ships in the sky, and all the other ridiculous stuff coughed up by the swamp of our fears and desires. To this day people in general do not trust science except as they pick-and-choose to, even as they get into automobiles and airplanes, even as they use computers. But why worry? The earth is going to spin off its axis like a top running down on December 21st, 2012, fall off the table and roll toward the giant Black Hole at the Galactic Center, with all of us screaming like so many flies.

                Hannibal was as scary as any black hole. They never called him “The Great”, or any other adjectival sobriquet; he was unique in this regard, and needs no other name. Arguably his invasion became in the long run a tremendous spur to the success and growth of Rome, for once they had survived his first few overwhelming victories on the field of battle, the evolutionary stress of the struggle forced the emergence of talented men, and they studied Hannibal, the great teacher of tactics and strategy, until after twenty years they had turned it around, sowed the salt in the ruins of Carthage, and were left with the finest army in the world, and a conviction of their superior destiny. Sure, it all fell to pieces in a few short centuries, but we certainly can't claim they left nothing useful for us in the ruins.

Nice little pile of crap in camp this morning – coyote? Buried to reduce flies.

 Jayko has drawn a magical ideogram with charcoal on my table; it offers milk to a roadrunner and prohibits any man from stealing the milk.

                 Around 10 am Peter and his rambunctious six-year-old Jayko (short for Jacob) showed up and we drove to the parking lot at Real Hidden Valley in separate cars. Everything takes longer with kids, of course; while I was waiting for them I figured out the 5.10 boulder problem on the left side of the east face of the 'entrance boulder' – a very nifty problem, not excessively strenuous. Also did the 5.7 on the back corner, up and down.
                Then we all had fun at the Sports Challenge Rock. I led “Sphincter Quits”, a short, scary but solid 5.9 on the west side. Peter toproped the 5.10+ on the left, which I could not even start, as a warmup, and then moved the anchor over to “Beaver”, the 5-star 12b, while I hung out with Jayko. Peter surprised himself by pulling it first try, after not having climbed for a year. Needless to say he is a very honed guy with absolutely zero visible body fat. Owns a dog-boarding biz in Squamish and plays soccer to stay in shape. Some hints of frustration regarding his situation – understandable, as Jayko, though intelligent and perky, can be annoyingly loud, sometimes deliberately; home schooled so far, in good old liberal-hippie fashion one might say. At one point Jayko was casing the underbrush just out of sight, looking for targets for his tiny bow and plastic straw/suction-cup arrows, and we heard him exclaim portentously, “I came! I saw! I conq – ow!” having stubbed his toe perhaps. He had a good time swinging on the rope (“Beaver” is wildly overhanging) and simultaneously, on the fly, shooting his dad with the bow, with remarkable accuracy.

                 A fun day for all – Peter stoked with his hard top-roping success, and me happy with the solid 5.9 lead. “Sphincter Quits” goes in three parts (like Gaul, for that matter): first a curving hand crack, not vertical, easy 5.8, set a directional and two pieces getting to a pseudo-ledge area – #2 ½ tricam at your feet. Now you are safe as regards falling; but the second phase is out on the face to the right; a thin step out and across to the almost dead-vertical crack, too thin for fingers, but has the odd pocket and a few face holds. Trick is to place a good solid nut to start (DMM wallnuts best here) while balancing close in to the rock. Don't waste time at the start, as I did, trying to place a Frost nut in a slightly flaring spot; you must commit a little farther to get a solid placement somewhat higher. Then you can step back down and rest before tightening up your sphincter and going for it. Crux is semi-tough right-facing layback; the third phase is quite easy to the top. No bolt anchors for toproping, but some good cracks. Easy walk-down to the southwest.

               As I told Peter (who was quite complimentary) I got through it on experience, not strength.

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to solitude retires
Where the White hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the ground suspires.

May 7th, Friday
Sunrise! Yet again!

                 Lazy day – went to town – took a shower – got lucky at thrift stores – park service didn't have missing credit card – couldn't find real deet – only fake organic insect repellents. Took a nap in tent – woke up panicked, thinking wallet stolen – had forgotten I had locked it in glove box. What a dufus.

                Afternoon – some good physical bouldering at Echo Cove. A group of jolly wankers were swinging on “Big Mo”, the classic 5.11a 80-foot-tall series of boulder problems – no hope for any of them, but lots of fun was had.

                There are five nice short problems at the entrance to the cove, on the right, ranging from 5.8/subtle to 5.10+/brutal – I did the 5.8 dihedral, 5.9 crack and 5.10- arete (the easiest of the three!). Still conditioning fingers slowly – I tried the Classic Thin Crack (5.11a) on the other side of the cove a couple of times – too thin for my fingers, was my excuse du jour; truth is that I need more strength, less weight, as always. I may have lost a couple of pounds, but more hiking is indicated.

Opuntia basilaris, the Beavertail Cactus, is found in southwest USA, mostly in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, and also in northwest Mexico.

Irám indeed is gone with all its Rose,
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her ancient Ruby yields,
And still a garden by the Water blows.

May 8th, Saturday. Sunrise 6:03

                 A lucky day, when balance and optimism were restored, after they had slipped a little. Managed to reach Hannah on her cell as she was walking to the train station with Cierán in NY, and she confirmed that the credit card had been found by an honest person, who called Visa, and the number was changed, etc.

                 So I celebrated – went and bought some real DEET (never needed it the rest of the trip) and got crispy fish tacos from Del Taco – not bad. Life cannot be alleged to be totally terrible if your fish tacos are edible, and hot sauce is readily available.  I loaded up with sauce packets to boost my bland camping food, and drove back totally without any plan for the rest of the day. An essential state of being – drifting without plans, or any need for plans – which gives the brain a balm, a respite from the dreary months of predictable yet insoluble problems.  Finally I loaded up the pack at Real Hidden Valley and went in search of “Zombie Woof”, among other things back beyond “Loose Lady”.  Found many beautiful unknown things behind and around Arid Piles and Jimmy Cliff.  Finally I recognized “Aguille de Josh”, a tiny spire that stands alone, and turned back.  Did some minor bouldering on a flat face I called “Map of Atlantis” and went on home. Early dinner of Bush's Baked Beans doctored with taco chips and Del's hot sauce packets. With about forty-five minutes to sunset I walked out behind the Cyclops and bouldered with some kids – very gratifying, as I did both the “Invisible Wave” and the “Horns of the Minotaur” (my names), both of which I had backed down from, twice, earlier in the week, feeling too tentative. These are the kinds of problems where feeling tentative just kills the vibe, ruins your chances, much like sex.

                 After wowing the kids (by 'kids' I mean people probably in their twenties) I quickly hiked up the backside of the Cyclops and shot a rather uninteresting sunset down to the last moment, to balance out the many sunrises. Then in darkness I walked up to the far end of the encampment to see Peter and Jayko and their friend Billy – nice young guy (actually a youthful 40), taking a break from 1-year-old daughter back in LA.

Datura stramonium, known by the common names jimson weed, devil's trumpet, devil's weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, datura, moonflower[1], and, in South Africa, malpitte and mad seeds, is a common weed in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family.

And David's Lips are lock'd; but in divine
High piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!” the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That yellow cheek of hers to incarnadine.

Some history of jimson weed, from Wiki:
                  "Datura stramonium was used as a mystical sacrament in both possible places of origin. Aboriginal Americans in North America, such as the Algonquin and Luiseño have used this plant in sacred ceremonies[10].  In the United States the plant is called jimson weed, or more rarely Jamestown weed; it got this name from the town of Jamestown, Virginia, where British soldiers were drugged with it while attempting to suppress Bacon's Rebellion. They spent eleven days generally appearing to have gone insane."

                  It's bad stuff, all right - don't even bother to try to get high with it:

                  "Datura intoxication typically produces a complete inability to differentiate reality from fantasy (delirium, as contrasted to hallucination); hyperthermia; tachycardia; bizarre, and possibly violent behavior; and severe mydriasis with resultant painful photophobia that can last several days. Pronounced amnesia is another commonly reported effect.[8] The antidote of choice for overdose or poisoning is physostigmine. [6]"

                  Maybe Hunter Thompson put this in his salad every day, but that was just him.

May 9th, Sunday – a night and day of heavy wind out of a clear sky.

                  Last of the bearclaws – must get more!

                  The infinite randomness of consciousness parallels the infinite randomness of granite. Hence finding a meaning – a boulder problem – in the meaningless, blank curves and wrinkles of the granite, is pure poetry, rising inexplicably from the hidden depths like the springs dripping from the dry rocks of the desert.

The Great Egg of the poetic imagination; there's no telling what might emerge.

                  So: poetry and other high conscious creativity is truly of a 'higher' order than a weaver bird's nest, or an anthill, or any genetically programmed activity?  Probably – the possible number of combinations of words in any poem is an immense number even when all 'meaningless' series are excluded. Not so easy to define 'meaningless', I admit.

7:15 pm
                  At This Very Moment (which is the only moment that ever really counts) I am boiling up Knorr's Cheezy Bacon Macaroni a la Del Scorcho sauce.  Rejoicing in repaired tent – central arch pole snapped in the wind as I was gone climbing. Now dipping stale half-croissant in cheesy pseudo-bacon liquid – haute cuisine!
                 Notable day's events: not only heavy wind, but rabbits rampant! Hares gone nuts!

                   In the morning we mounted an expedition to Echo Cove with Peter, Jayko and Billy. Billy led “Fun Stuff” 5.8 – his first lead in 10 years – almost a flash – commendable hanging-in-there vs. nerves. I coached, followed, cleaned and critiqued.

                  Then Peter toproped it with Jayko tied to him with a sling (and full-body harness) and boosting him just a couple of times. Kid was fearless! And having tons of fun – no whining whatsoever, not while climbing anyway.

Peter and Jayko pulling over the top.

And headed back to terra firma.

                  Home for lunch – smoked oysters, croissant, tortilla chips, water. I took a short nap as the wind tore at the tent sans merci. Then I roused myself and went off to the Beautiful Project behind Arid Piles. Wind not too bad, being from the west, and the face looks east. But it was in shadow, and by the time I had finished toproping it on self-belay I was cold and fed up with the wind. The tedious twenty-minute trudge back to car, the three minute drive home, and I immediately noticed my tent's center-arch pole had snapped and thrust up through the fly – sort of a tent hara-kiri. Immediately Ra showed up in his truck, as if on cue. He is an amusing reincarnation of the popular Egyptian sun-god as a semi-retired carpenter from San Mateo who loves the desert and rides a custom-made titanium mountain bike. He proceeded to magically scrounge up a couple of special rusty nails, originally used in pallets which are burned as kindling, from the dirt around the camp, and inserted them into the broken tube, and I taped it up with athletic tape, put tent-repair tape on the wounded fly, and I was back in business – catastrophe averted. I could have stuck it out with a partially collapsed tent, but my fun would have been diminished. Although my belongings in the tent had been tossed as if by coyote gangsters, it didn't really look much different – a minute of shoving stuff into various corners and you'd never have known anything had happened.

                 Thinking of Billy's lead, which, although he is not strictly speaking a novice, challenged him quite seriously due to the many years that had passed since his previous climbing. Peter and I joked back and forth about who had encouraged or coerced him into doing it, though of course we were pretty confident that he would not get into any serious trouble on this particular climb, with the crux right at the bottom, and no runout or sustained physical sections. We agreed that the 'head' for leading is something that has to be regularly renewed and exercised, and when it is not, there is a definite adjustment period, which I personally experience as a sudden fear-pain in the pit on my stomach, even after all these years. I am usually able to recognize it and soothe it by means of intense concentration on the plan of attack for the climb I'm proposing to lead. Thinking of this subject made me compile this short list of novice-leader problems that come up again and again, and cause the inexperienced leader to fail on climbs that are well within his or her physical ability. I once saw an apparently experienced, and obviously extremely fit climber fail miserably to lead Castor, a stiff 5.10 at Seneca, because he was clearly too afraid of the climb to make a tactical plan, and put in twice as many pieces as he needed in the first twenty feet, and zig-zagged them unnecessarily as well, creating drag. Thinking back a quarter century to my own onsight flash lead of it, I don't really know how I did it; I was certainly not as strong as this guy, and had no great store of leading experience. It may just be that I had climbed a lot of cracks by then, and had an edge in crack technique that would have given me time, as I went, to place gear more strategically. Odds are, though, my individual placements were a little sketchy back then; but then, nuts hold well at Seneca.

Typical novice leader problems and their causes:
Overgripping/forearm flameout – nerves
overprotecting/energy waste – nerves
missing obvious holds – nerves
rope drag – inexperience
weak placements – inexperience
missing rest stances – inexperience
cramped belay stances - inexperience

                   There is only one cure for all of these ailments, and that is more climbing!

                   The cold wind remained strong; I had to disobey one of the Stupid Commandments of camping – “Never cook in the tent.” – which I have often ignored before. I cooked with the zippers almost closed, the tent rocking back and forth at random. Fairly safe with propane stove – probably not with liquid-fuel types. Basic problem – stakes cannot be driven into this stony ground – we drift on the shallow granite sands by the sufferance of Fate... Perhaps titanium stakes and a hammer would work; but how much must I spend on tent stakes? As the week went on I gathered more and larger boulders from the site and strapped the fly to them; luckily, before I went out that day I had attached a cord to the nearby tree as well.
                   Sometime after midnight the wind simply stopped altogether, which I think woke me up. And then the 2 am coyote chorus across the hills, brief, as always.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly, and Lo! The Bird in on the Wing.

May 10th, Monday; sunrise 6:01, 40 degrees F. Tomorrow: re-up for three days; too lazy to move tent, and don't want to risk losing the jury-rig.

“This tune was composéd by Spencer the rover,
As valiant a man, as ever left home...”

This is my description of “Dawn Treader” 5.10b (on toprope), the apparently brand new climb out behind the Arid Piles, as per diagram on p. 25 of notebook:

First section – about 25 feet+, smooth slab split by incipient crack with a few shallow, tricky placements for #5 DMM nuts and the like; about 5.10b on toprope halfway through, then easing off. Ends at a good horizontal with one excellent placement, but getting there on lead could be damned dicey.

Second section – eight feet, a fairly simple step-up to another good horizontal and pro.

Third section – about 25 feet again, smooth slab, crack on left. Three possible finishes:

a) crack on left is easy but annoying, with bushes and yucca to get through, and crumbly big curving flake to the left.

b) slab climbing, near the crack at first, then angling right and up to a short vertical seam, and then to the crack under the big bulgy headwall (which is not part of climb); about 5.8 at most; no pro available.

c) directly up the slab to a smooth weird knob, the only one on the face; theoretically one might palm this and mantel up, step up and right to slightly less steep area; finish to crack and exit left under the bulge. I almost got this, and Peter fiddled with it only briefly; I would suspect an .11a or .10d sort of rating. A single bolt could protect this section.

                 Expedition to the project, Peter and I leading/following Jayko, who has decreed that we shall play the fantasy Prince Caspian as we go. For the occasion I have been re-christened Prince Caspian (I was offered any character except Reepicheep and Glenstorm.) Peter became Reepicheep the noble mouse, and Jayko took the plum role of Glenstorm the Centaur. Somehow we fought our way through the evil armies of the White Queen to the base of the climb. Peter then did an expert evaluation and recon, finding the pro thin and tricky but feasible – but he didn't want to lead it, nor did I, as I then toproped it twice more, and found it still fairly desperate early on, when pro is a necessity. We ended up thinking that the start – first 20 feet – is 5.10b or maybe b/c, but definitely harder if led.

                There is a 5.8-ish finish on the face alone, to the right of the bushy crack (Ever notice how guidebooks always call that a 'vegetated crack' instead?) on crumbly but adequate edges, curving right to a shallow seam. This allows for a bypass of the annoying crack/flake finish on the left.

                But what would elevate the climb from ordinary to pretty cool, would be the successful use of the smooth knob to the right, in the upper section. It would be a very thin, balancey mantel move – I almost got it, I flatter myself, and so can perhaps use this as a spur to improve my physical conditioning.

Glenstorm Approaches "Dawn Treader"

                  We made a small detour to view the small but noble crag Zombie Woof on the way back. Jayko staged a big power play to protest the deviation, which we more or less ignored.

                  In the afternoon I went to town for gas and more Del Taco fish tacos, plus a vanilla milkshake – a mistake – felt bloated and overfull for a while.   I drove around and confirmed the melancholy rumor that the stellar local Italian restaurant called Stefano's no longer exists. Couldn't find anything remotely comparable among the strip malls on 29 Palms highway.
                  Later I was invited to dinner with Peter and Jayko – a cheerfully chaotic affair. Jayko was as always skylarking, sometimes quite loudly, and mostly hanging out in the tree over the picnic table. Favorite game – guess what animal I am. He became sloth, scorpion, monkey and others – conversation difficult. Peter and I had Molsons, cool but not cold – my first beer in 9 days – ambrosia! Finally Jayko settled on the persona of a monkey named Oo-oo-ee-ee.
                 Peter: “Can I call you Oo-oo for short?”
                 Jayko: “No.” Got a laugh.

                 When he tried to bite me on the arm (not in a serious manner, but still a little alarming) for the second time, I pulled his head away from my arm by the hair, gently. He then got angry, fake-sobbing, climbed high on a rock and glared down at us. In modern psychopharmia-land they would give him ritalin, etc., but I feel it would be a crime to muzzle such a spirit. Smart kid, too. Always a problem – how to socialize the wild and savage child without blunting his wonderful energy and enthusiasm, sense of self. If he is handled gently, patiently and firmly, he'll end up as an outstanding human being in whatever he does. Maybe that could be said of most of us, I suppose – no parents are perfect, and I have my own share of regrets in the raising of my boys – but whatever I did right, to help them be the fine young men they are, was a function of my limited store of patience, gentleness and love, and did not stem from my intellect or discipline.

And look – a thousand Blossoms with the Day
Woke – and a thousand scatter'd into Clay:
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobád away.

May 11th, Tuesday Sunrise 6:00am

                 It was a cold night – wore hat, fleece sox etc. This morning there was a thin layer of frost on the car; when the sun rose it disappeared before my coffee boiled. Peter and Jayko are off to town today – I should develop a plan, I guess. Hike “Galapagos” region? Very low on propane.

9:50 – rambling hike of Galapagos area.

                Far down the wash leading to the left of Jerry's Quarry is a small obelisk, not far on the left.  There is a 25-foot route, 5.9-ish I think, on the near corner. Not too much farther is a bouldering area with a very hard-looking, highball horizontals problem. On the east side of the pile is a shrine to the sun god – stones laid out as a sunburst, with eight arms oriented to the cardinal directions, on a gentle slope facing east, with a view open probably 25 miles to the southeast. To pay my respects to the sun god (although I salute him with coffee the moment he rises each day) I did some nude sunbathing. The wind was a bit chilly, but I was partly sheltered here, and the god was strong.

Sorry - nude model just left!

Random items:
hummingbird sat for a portrait. Two shots, one good.
Coyote skull and jaw in wash.
Several fun boulder problems, widely spaced.
Lot's wife in granite.
Bees still there in the crack, not as active.
Probably a large owl, flying.

 Hummingbird on a twig.

                Forgot my danged binoculars! – a must-have for full enjoyment of this huge landscape. Tremendous climbing potential, but diffuse, lots of trudging.

NOTE: Turnoffs # 3 and 4 are not insight of each other, though not far apart. If you return from hiking at #3 and think your car was stolen, walk right, south, downhill, to #4 before panicking.

                After eight solid hours of wandering the vast waves of the desert beyond “Equinox” (mid-seventies, windy at first, some small clouds last two hours) with only a liter of water and one crispy food bar, I drove home and gobbled Alfredo tuna surprise, and saw once again before me the beautiful, glowing Cyclops in the dying hour of the sun. I grabbed my old friends, the green Scarpa Edges that have never failed me, and I soloed the easy 'chimney' up the middle (too huge for any actual chimneying technique) which is possibly the most-climbed pitch in the park, being so attractive, easy and convenient of access. Just a happy jugfest with one or two moments of thought required on the first time. Sort of like the first time I ever had sex, but without the delirium.

 Toproping the Cyclops in the eternal afternoon.

Did a couple of boulder problems out back to keep up the finger conditioning, walked home in the gloaming and to bed.

But come with old Khayyám, and leave the Lot
Of Kaikobád and Kaikhosrú forgot:
Let Rustum lay about him as he will,
Or Hátim Tai cry supper – heed them not.

May 12, Wednesday. Sunrise 5:57:45 – sun precessing into a slight pass in the hills, hence showing a little earlier than expected.

                  Professional astronomers will no doubt scoff at my careless use of the term 'precession'. Wiki defines axial precession as follows:

                 “Axial precession is the movement of the rotational axis of an astronomical body, whereby the axis slowly traces out a cone.”

                 This therefore might seem like a reasonable word to call the drift of the points on the horizon where the sun rises and sets as the seasons change; however, reality is always layered with greater complexity than at first appears, and they go on:

                 “In the case of the Earth, this type of precession is also known as the precession of the equinoxes or precession of the equator. The Earth goes through one such complete precessional cycle in a period of approximately 26,000 years, during which the positions of stars as measured in the equatorial coordinate system will slowly change; the change is actually due to the change of the coordinates. Over this cycle the Earth's north axial pole moves from where it is now, within 1° of Polaris, in a circle around the ecliptic pole, with an angular radius of about 23.5 degrees (or approximately 23 degrees 27 arcminutes [2]). The shift is 1 degree in 72 years, where the angle is taken from the observer, not from the center of the circle.
Discovery of the precession of the equinoxes is generally attributed to the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus (ca. 150 B.C.). The Precession (axial rotation) was later explained by Newtonian physics. Being an oblate spheroid, the Earth has a nonspherical shape, bulging outward at the equator. The gravitational tidal forces of the Moon and Sun apply torque as they attempt to pull the equatorial bulge into the plane of the ecliptic. The portion of the precession due to the combined action of the Sun and the Moon is called lunisolar precession.”

                 I feel happy that this level of complexity was within the grasp of Hipparchus way back then, and also that we still have plenty of people who fully understand this, unlike the very dim and rudimentary understanding I can assemble. I'll take it on faith, that it is all true – not because I worship at any altar, but because for the last 2,160 years intelligent people have checked it and rechecked it in the normal course of learning the sciences, and not one could prove it to be flawed. There is my faith: that the human mind desperately loves to prove another human mind wrong, and to discover a new and original truth that cannot be pulled down, no matter how much reason is applied, for that is one of the few forms of immortality available to us.

                 I've re-shot many of the same photos I have taken on previous trips, so as to have them on digital as well as film. The same quirky items jump out at me, like the huge guardian-troll face on lower Cyclops west corner.
                Desperately in need of a shower  – immersed in dust and pollen all day yesterday, sneezing and dripping. Also need some ready-to-eat foods as propane nearly gone – not worth buying more just for two days. Shave, haircut?

                Tense tableau unfolds! As I sat in the car, avoiding the wind and thinking of this and that, a large crow and two ground squirrels proceeded to ransack my camp, getting very little. One of the squirrels stood up straight, just behind the water jug for quite a long time, not even blinking an eyelash, as the crow paced back and forth on a nearby rock. It reminded me of the little girl in one of the Jurassic Park movies holding extremely still so as not to trigger the motion-sensing eyes of the tyrannosaur. Finally the crow hopped down and finished off the dried cranberries I had left for Scruffy, and the squirrels went over the table and grounds with a fine-toothed comb.

 Brazen thieves, openly conspiring to rob me!

                 Blue Jay just came by on his rounds, saw that nothing was left, and flew off in a huff. No comment though.  Useful thing the crows taught me: do not leave your large water jugs unguarded when you go climbing, as the crows can and will punch holes in them - maybe near the top, and you'll lose a little water, or maybe at the bottom, and you'll lose most of the water.

~ 11:00 am – warm, sunny, wind dying. Peter, Jayko, Ra and I went up the camp a little bit, and I led “Hands Off”, 5.8*** a classic crack best done with as much stemming, etc. as possible; finish is a bit steeper and harder. Crack accepts nearly anything – nuts are good, keep some smalls for the last bit. Very popular, obviously, kind of greasy. Peter says he's done it probably twenty times over the years, it being so convenient in Hidden Valley campground.

Notice that the lizard's tail does not yet know that it no longer serves a lizard, and still flails.

                Then we all went off to the Zombie Woof crag. On the north side I led all but the last move – a pure leap, like a jump ball in basketball, which my knees can no longer do – of the short two-bolt 5.10b. Peter worked TR on “Zombie” and “Poodle” Woofs – no progress on either one – both are very, very bad. “I'm about as baaaad as a boogie-man can be.” - from the eponymous Frank Zappa classic. “Poodle” only 10b? We think not – inexplicable, maybe a weird contorted bouldering start. “Zombie” at 12b is just brutally physical.

With me along some Strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the Desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultán scarce is known
And pity Sultán Máhmúd on his throne.

May 13th, Thursday.

                 Last full day here, and for the occasion it is actually overcast, and I get no sunrise, after nine straight days of seeing the actual moment the sun struck over the hill. I feel a little old – stiff lower back, etc. But the cold is moderating.

                 Breakfast at Country Kitchen! “Home Cook'n” their motto. Opens early, until 3 pm. Classic American greasy spoon near the corner of Park and 29 Palms Highway. Owned and operated by Peng and Madleine Uy – apparently Cambodian. Crammed with kitsch – figurines, plastic flowers (some for sale at your table!), Buddha heads, big-eyed cat statues, bric-a-brac, “nic-nacs” and “doo-dads” (as listed on a yard-sale sign posted on the inside of the front door). Near the door, a wooden panel neatly lettered using a soldering iron advises, almost in haiku:


                 As there is no other evidence in the restaurant of ironic consciousness, I will assume that the substitution of 'authors' for 'others' is a genuine malapropism, in total agreement with the naïve charm of the décor. (Not everyone knows that one should never extend credit to authors.) On the wall above my table there was a nicely framed colored-pastel drawing of the restaurant, which is a quarter the size of even a small MacDonald's. (Park in the back on a dirt lot accessed only from the back of the block.) The drawing depicts the building from an angle above, and several western galoots with ten-gallon hats and big old mustaches are sauntering egregiously and jauntily towards the door from their respective pickup trucks. I had some generously-portioned but indifferently cooked eggs, toast and bacon.

                 Led “Flue” 5.8***, on the Chimney formation right behind my tent – easy in general, the start is easier than it looks; don't waste time going to the right. Lead the slanting crack with your feet mostly below it. The crack is fairly rough in texture although obviously popular; I meant to use my crack gloves but forgot, and it didn't much matter. The occasion was marked by a weird rainbow high in the sky, arcing part way around the sun – so weird I had to run back to the car for the camera. Magical Mystery Tour etc.

What the hell?  Have the gods gone cuckoo?
                 Some more quickie Wiki research seems to indicate that this was a circumhorizontal arc (NOT an upside-down rainbow) and not a circumzenithal arc nor even an infralateral.  The differences between the various arcs that can be found in the sky are pretty dry, so let's just not go into it, shall we?
                  Then we both toproped “Raven's Reach” 5.10a without difficulty, and Peter toproped the 5.10b between them, that looks so hard, with no apparent difficulty. We went on out to Zombie Woof, again, with detours to look at “Gripped up in the Hole” and “Lucky Lady”, both not worth the trouble at this time. (“Hole” is a short two-bolt 5.10a with a weird, dangerous start involving stepping sideways off a tall boulder and immediately doing a peculiar and probably irreversible mantel to get on the climb, with a somewhat nasty little fall. I said, “Would it have killed them to put one bolt right here to protect the start?” and Peter immediately replied, “Yes, it would have killed them to do that, because they were Joshua Tree climbers!” and we had a laugh at that.)

                    I once again led the short 5.10b and pulled on the bolt to finish it, and Peter gave the Z.W. four valiant attempts, each time getting a little farther, but still no solution to the problem of turning the roof. Jayko had a few swings on the rope and we said our goodbyes.

 A song that has inexplicably stayed in my memory, probably for the last 50 years:

Git Along Little Dogies

  • As I was out walking one morning for pleasure,
  • I spied a cowpuncher come ridin' along,
  • His hat was thrown back and his spurs were a-jinglin'
  • And as he approached he was singing this song.

  • Whoopie ti-yi-yo git along little dogies,
  • It's your misfortune and none of my own.
  • Whoopie ti-yi-yo git along little dogies,
  • For you know that Wyoming will be your new home.
  • It's early in spring when we round up the dogies.
  • We mark 'em and brand 'em and bob off their tails.
  • They round up the horses and load the chuck wagon,
  • And throw the little dogies upon the long trail.
  • Your mama was raised way down in old Texas,
  • Where the jimson weed and cactus grow.
  • We'll fill you up on prickly pear and cholla,
  • Until you are ready for Idaho.

                   Off to shower, shave and haircut in town. Found a beauty salon open on south side of highway in Yucca Valley. Hairdresser named Kathleen Bruce, a good-looking lady of 60, loves camping in JT with her kids and grandkids.

                   The restaurant formerly called Alejandro's has lost the cheesy statue, improved the décor and now calls itself La Casita Nueva – chicken fajitas not half bad w/two bottles of Negro Modelo. It was a struggle to finish it all; $17 – they apparently forgot to charge me for the second Modelo. $22 with tip. My tank is now full.

                   More astronomical matters: Peter told me that a smaller, visible star orbits the second star in the tail of Ursa Major, and the orbit is fairly fast. I was able to see it at the 5-o'clock position with respect to the bigger star by adjusting my astigmatism in the usual manner, pulling at the corners of my eyes. Later I confirmed it with binoculars; also saw a fairly good-sized meteor burn up.

                  We had clear air that last night; I stood near my tent looking up at the sky.  The Milky Way spread far, horizon to horizon, northwest and southeast. I noticed, or constructed, a pattern: a vague set of footprints, or stepping stones, laid out along the galaxy, in several sets of paired stars. I know that these pairs in fact have no actual relationships, either in themselves or to each other; their only meaning is the image itself, as seen by me, from this point in space and time, and written down here for my memory; yet I looked at them and thought of the mythic journey that is intrinsic to consciousness, that is essential to human life. When we cannot walk across the land, when we cannot see the endless sky, when we are mired or imprisoned in our imperfect brains, we mourn, we struggle in panic against the death that is stasis. Life must move, and we must travel the galaxy, and we must paint the stars with meaning, even knowing that the paint, a mere ephemera like ourselves, is the only meaning they can have.

From Wiki:

                   "The Mizar-Alcor stellar sextuple system consists of the quadruplet system Mizar and the binary system Alcor.  Mizar (ζ UMa / ζ Ursae Majoris) is a quadruplet system of two binary stars in the constellation Ursa Major and is the second star from the end of the Big Dipper's handle. Its apparent magnitude is 2.23 and its spectral class is A1V. Mizar's name comes from the Arabic مئزر mīzar, meaning a waistband or girdle.)
                  With normal eyesight one can make out a faint companion just to the east, named Alcor or 80 Ursae Majoris. Alcor is of magnitude 3.99 and spectral class A5V. Mizar and Alcor together are sometimes called the "Horse and Rider," and the ability to resolve the two stars with the naked eye is often quoted as a test of eyesight, although even people with quite poor eyesight can see the two stars. Arabic literature says that only those with the sharpest eyesight can see the companion of Mizar. Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore has suggested that this in fact refers to another star which lies visually between Mizar and Alcor. Mizar and Alcor lie three light-years apart, and though their proper motions show they move together (they are both members of the Ursa Major Moving Group), it was long believed they do not form a true binary star system, but simply a double star. However, in 2009, it was reported by astronomer Eric Mamajek and collaborators that Alcor actually is itself a binary, consisting of Alcor A and Alcor B, and that this binary system is most likely gravitationally bound to Mizar, bringing the full count of stars in this complex system to six.[1] Their study also demonstrated that the Alcor binary and Mizar quadruple are much closer together than previously thought - approximately 74,000 ± 39,000 Astronomical Units.[2]

                 The whole four-star system lies about 78 light-years away from Earth. The components are all members of the Ursa Major moving group, a mostly dispersed group of stars sharing a common birth, as determined by proper motion. The other stars of the Big Dipper, except Dubhe and Alkaid, belong to this group as well."

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns ashes – or it prospers, and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty face
Lighting a little hour or two – is gone.

All text and photos Copyright 2010 by David Warren Rockwell .


  1. amazing blog Dave! i love your photos and layout and poetry too... i had know idea i was climbing with such an artist!

  2. Dave Thank you for sharing your awesome photos.
    I wish I could have gone with you.
    Are you guys planning an October Trip?

  3. ok, you're right, no one could possibly find all of this interesting, but i did my best, given the time constraints we all face in 2010 on a monday.
    nice photos and observations, as always
    mike olliver




About Me

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He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.