Friday, June 3, 2022

Baja Chronicles Pt. 2

May 24–25

"The sun started showing its face yesterday afternoon while we were surfing the rightmost point at 'Long Beach.' Despite the cold air from the Pacific barreling in over the coast, the sun's out in full and beating on our skin and the camp we’ve set up tucked between the dunes. Not a great place to hang out in the heat of the day, but seemingly hidden enough from the supposed watchful eyes of anyone with a capable vehicle and the hope of burning some Gringos.

This is a marked contrast from the past two days, where I thought California's infamous June Gloom would make Baja feel more like how Bilbao felt or how Pichilemu looked in photos. Despite all of this, the water is still very cold. Apparently it stays in the 50s year round due to deep underwater caves. 

Yesterday I woke up stiff and achey—the shoulder injury decided to speak up again. A rooster started squawking at around 3:15 AM and wouldn't cease until well past sunrise. Who programmed this thing? Rough. Need to always keep the ear plugs closer at hand. 

Made some coffee and we were in the car by 8 AM. We drove north to see about las olas mejores that the hombre told us about the day before. 

Our first attempt making it over that way did not go easily. The road was merely an extension of the beach—dunes consisting of soft sand. We didn't wanna charge on through because the sand and the angle of the slopes only got gnarlier. With nowhere to make a K-turn, Travis drove in reverse all the way back to where the road improved. This caused his engine to nearly catch fire. I continuously inhaled engine smoke while I helped Evan push Travis' car backwards out of the dunes. The smell of burning clutch lingered inside the car for the rest of the drive and turned my stomach upside down. 

We got in the water hoping for a clean, well-organized right point break, but it was mostly big, sloping beach breaks with no obvious takeoff or organization. The waves felt much more powerful over here than in the cove we surfed yesterday. They would come in—surging and apparently small—and very instantly would plunge to hard-to-predict waist-to-head high pitchy sections. What they lacked in shape they made up for in volume, and they were quite fun on the longboard with the right takeoff direction. 

These were certainly the biggest waves I'd surfed since some of the hurricane swells down in the Gulf of Mexico. I was a bit too inside at one point and while paddling back out I took a wave directly on the head. Before I went under I must have forgotten to take my big breath, and the washing machine had its way with me for longer than I was ready. It felt like I came pretty close to surfacing with a belly full of seawater. The ocean can feel so calm in certain positions, but this was a good reminder that it gets very serious if I'm in the wrong spot. It feels even more serious down here at a remote break in Baja, far from any reliable help. 

After this shakeup, my confidence tumbled and I passed up a lot of good waves until about the end of the session, where I started to focus harder on relaxing and breathing well. It worked. 

For the second time in a row we had the entire break to ourselves.

As we left the spot, the gloom finally burned off and we gawked at some large, hilly ranches overlooking the ocean. Small yellow and bright red flowers carpeted the ground and felt soft under my feet.

At camp we made lunch and more coffee and napped in the sun, causing the tops of my feet to bake like lobsters. Bummer. Luckily the campground had an abundance of aloe plants. I picked fistfuls of the spiny leaves and rubbed their gel on my skin. 

We lounged around until evening and then went into Erendira. That night it seemed downright bustling compared to when we drove in the day before. There were a dozen or so people walking or biking on the dusty streets. There were tiendas with their doors open and a small family-owned eatery with its abierto sign flashing and jangling in the evening light. 

It was my first opportunity to practice my Spanish in earnest. There was a family dining in there, their son watching a children's show on his iPad. Like most children's shows, the characters spoke very slowly and clearly. I appreciated this. My Spanish was passable enough to give the family our thanks and graces. I got tacos dorados, which can mean many different things. Tonight it meant fried chicken, and the grease dripped down my chin and onto my pants as I scarfed it down. Not the traditional Mexican meal I had hoped for, but we lacked options. We returned to camp and anxiously awaited any gastrointestinal problems that would follow the next day. 

We got back at dark. That night a Mexican family was hanging around outside one of the half-finished houses below our camp. They built a small fire and from their stereo bopped reggaeton songs with catchy melodies.

I went to sleep listening to and thinking about this Mexican family who I knew nothing about. 

I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. Apparently my 20deg down quilt and hoodie were way overkill for the fair Pacific nights. With my bum shoulder, I struggled to peel off my hoodie and from outside of the tent it must have sounded like I was wrestling with Travis or something. I went back to sleep, cool and clammy on my plastic sleeping pad. 

The next morning I heard Travis and Evan getting stuff ready. I gave myself an extra 15 minutes of sleep. I needed it. Once up and moving I realized Montezuma exacted a small share of revenge, and I did overtime in the campground’s bathroom. 

We decided to go back to the same spot as yesterday, only this time we'd surf the southern end of the zone. Similar conditions as the day before except a bit bigger and with better shape. The sun was out in full force and illuminated the wave faces cool green. The first hour or two of the sesh was quiet—sets were infrequent and the waves were harder to predict. They would often double up, or surge, crumble, and then resurge. The water was clear through to the bottom, which was nothing but sand. Such a nice day to be in the water. 

3/4 of the way into the session it started pumping chest to head-high, and I caught some of the biggest waves I think I've ever ridden. The 9' let me catch them far on the outside and hang out in the pocket for a while before standing up. I think the move with that 9' is to hang in a prone position in the pocket for a little bit, stand up, and cruise down the face with speed. After getting to the bottom of the face, I distinctly remember that my best waves involved me choking down on the board above the fin, making a hard turn either left or right, and then choking back up and riding the line. It was nice to go face to face with such beautiful, green waves on such a stable, fun board. This was my best session so far.  

Tonight we camp above this beautiful break that we surfed today and the day before, tucked inconspicuously within the dunes. I'm apprehensive about camping in such an isolated spot and am hoping for the best. I've heard bad stories about people in Baja camping off in remote zones only to get held up at gunpoint during the middle of the night. Hopefully these are just the exceptions and not the rule. 

Tomorrow we hope to surf here again in the morning, head into town for some birria, drive back on the MX-1 into Valle de Santo Tomas for some vino, and eventually surf a different break just north of us. Viva Baja.



Monday, May 30, 2022

Baja Chronicles Pt. 1

There's so much I can say about Baja California, but I think it'd take so long to fully process my experience and put it into words. I keep up this little page for fun, and it certainly ain’t payin the bills. 

Let's just say that spending the week surfing in Baja was everything I had hoped for—dreamed of even—and the surfing bug has bit me hard. In fact, I'm finding myself scheming the transition from the dry mountains of Utah to the busy, jam-packed, overpopulated, and polluted Pacific coast. 

But those are just some of the qualities you find in southern California. In Baja, on the other hand, you might find lonely breaks (and there are many)* with nary a soul save for some dolphins, pelicans, and a humpback whale. Sure, you'll find pollution and people, but most of them don't surf—at least in the rural coastal villages that harbor beautiful surf. Those people either fish, work in town, or farm. They're kind, and they smiled at us when our Spanish was bad and waved at us whenever we passed by them on one of Baja's many dubious dirt roads. 

Luckily so much was happening during my trip that I felt like I needed to write it all down every day in my flimsy little soft-spine journal. I took some photos too. I suppose I'll throw it all up on here to commemorate my first surfing trip to Baja. Surely there will be many more (and hopefully with good homies like Travis and Evan). 

*After some consideration I've decided to withhold the names of most of the spots we surfed. They're just too good. But with a little bit of research and map-reading skills, you can probably figure it out. 

Days 1 & 2: California, USA and Ejido Erendira, Baja, MX

"Arrived in LA before noon. Travis picked me up all grins and we hit traffic the second we pulled away from the curb. 

LA was somehow both grey and sunny, and unexciting. We met up with Billy in a Rite Aid parking lot where he handed me off his 4/3 wetsuit and a beautiful yellow quad-fin fish, maybe about 5'4". We said we'd see him the following weekend, and he warned us that coming back into the states will take a long, long time due to border crossing bullshit. Noted. 

We hit San Clemente, which on a Sunday felt appropriately busy, which is to say not really busy at all except for the cars on the main drags and the shops with their doors open wide to the street and the fair Pacific coastal summer air. 

I really had to piss. I went into a CVS and of course their bathroom was broken so they told me to use the cafe's across the street. I ran across the street fully expecting the cafe's bathroom to be broken too, but the woman working there sensed desperation in my voice and gracefully gave me the code. I've learned that it's really hard to go to the bathroom in California even when you're buying something. 

Quickly we were out of Orange County and in San Diego County, where there's big expensive stucco homes draping over the dry canyons that spill empty below the highways and into the ocean. Apparently there's a lot of dry canyons in San Diego, and some conservation organization is trying to protect them. Knowing how populated California is makes that seem like a tremendous challenge. Affordable housing or conservation lands? Tough call. 

Pretty soon we were driving through brushy, empty hillsides that were apparently under military jurisdiction. We passed San Onofre, one of southern California's finest longboarding waves. I couldn't stop thinking about surfing. 

This part of southern California felt conservative and quintessentially American. Here we were on the great coast of the greatest ocean in the greatest country in the world, and all we have to show for that is private property and military defense. 

We eventually arrived at our destination for the night, Solano Beach, which according to Travis meant that everyone who lives here must be related to Jeff Bezos in some way. It was nice, there were more big stucco ranchettes with manicured front lawns and xeriscaped yards sloping into the dry canyons. The nicest houses were on the canyon rims while the highways and strip malls sat in the wooded, dreamy canyon bottoms. 

At one of those nice canyon rim homes we were greeted by Evan and James. James seemed to be an encyclopedia for all things Baja [we later learned that his dad had been surfing in Baja for over 35 years]. He was over the moon to fill our ears with sage advice, and he provided us with so much gear and information that I don't know how we'll ever repay him. Plus, he gave us couches and floors to sleep on. 

We hung around for the evening, dug Encinitas, talked Baja, and James gave us some final remarks about dealing with policia municipales and re-entering the country (go to the 'ready lane'!!!). All of this information made trip logistics feel daunting, but none of it seemed real and soon enough I was fast asleep on a pullout couch in a home office, dreaming of nothing and waking up on my back, pleased with how rested I felt. 

We had a nice breakfast of eggs, cheese, and spinach and packed the car. Leaving for a trip like this always takes longer than I anticipate. Things don't fit inside the car quite the way you want, and everyone's gotta attend to their pre-trip tasks, errands, etc. 

It was cool and foggy outside and the air smelled like hydrangea. We grabbed some solar-res from a surf shop, I grabbed a bean from an industrial-feeling coffeeshop that played jazz music, and we were finally Mexico-bound at 10:15 AM. 

The rest of San Diego more or less blended together and reaching the border was quick and almost too easy. You're on the US interstate and suddenly the residential areas disappear, the border wall appears, and there it is, perched up on scrubby, eroded hills, every inch a slum overlooking the turdy Tijuana River: Mexico. Once you cross into Mexico, there's a handful of official-looking people bumbling around, hardly interested in the Gringos speeding gleefully and scared into their poorer, more exciting country. 

We were told to avoid driving through Tijuana at all costs so we took the scenic road south instead. We still got a taste of Tijuana as we drove north along the graffitied shanties, watching grave Mexicans—some with mattress frames straddled across their backs—run across the busy highway. 

The shift from the states to Mexico was jarring. It was still foggy, gloomy, and there lingered a general feeling of unease. This feeling continued all the way down the coast through Ensenada, punctuated only by the gorgeous viewpoint overlooking Salsipuedes, the greatest wave in Baja Norte [that's supposedly closed off due to privatization].

Ensanada was busy and had a distinctly foreign feel—lots of Mexican chain establishments and American chain establishments with different menu items (extra mayo), holes in the wall, and food carts. The wide, potholed road through Ensanada dragged on and contained barely noticeable 'Alto' signs roughly every mile, presumably signifying pedestrian walkways that were too easy to miss. 

Travis nearly missed a stoplight denoting a very busy intersection, and we watched in horror as four lanes of Monday afternoon Mexican traffic came barreling in toward us from either direction. With much skill Travis maneuvered his car just in time, but we nearly got t-boned from both directions (cross-boned?). It was a great reminder to not get too comfortable here in Mexico. 

Leaving Ensanada we were slightly worried about the military checkpoint, which the guidebook mentioned required a visa to pass. We had no visas, and thankfully the military paid no attention to us as we passed through the checkpoint. 

After the checkpoint the fog and gloom cleared and so did our minds and hearts. The foreign hustle and bustle of Ensanada was behind us and ahead was the golden, steep, brushy hills of Valle de Santo Tomas, with its sleepy tiendas and ranchos and bodegas. This was the Baja for which I came and it was splendid. 

We continued to wind through the dry hills, leaving the valley and heading back toward the coast. We reached the fishing village of Ejido Erendira. Most of the tiendas were closed but there were people milling about their houses and bashful children looking out at us from windows. 

We turned onto the rugged beach access road which would take us to camp for the night: a gringo outpost called Coyote Cal's. When we arrived Cal was very brief with us as he had to meet in the parking lot with two young officers who worked for the municipality of Ensanada. Listening to him speak Spanish to them was very funny. He had the language mechanics and vocabulary of Dale Gribble, with the laidback delivery of a SoCal surfer. But he seemed nice enough and kept a welcoming hostel. 

We threw our shit down at the campsite and were greeted by a thirsty doberman pinscher, its tongue lolling about as it loped around camp. It had massive cojones but was very relaxed. If this was what you'd call a third-world dog, he sure was a friendly one. We named him Chupito and he followed us up our short walk to the top of a dirt hill that overlooked the campsite and some potential surf. 

After finding little surf directly north of the hostel, we decided to get in the car and drive and scope. 

The road we took ended at an idyllic cove which had surf. Long, frown-shaped crumbly beach break, but glassy and with a sandy beach entrance. It was empty, and the parking lot was guarded by a squatter, who lived in what looked like a converted airplane hangar replete with a watchtower. Later I would speak bad Spanish to the man, who told me he worked on boats and that there were "olas mejores" just further north.

We eventually paddled in, and wow, the water was in fact very cold. I knew it would feel pleasantly coastal, but the chill in the air and the water took me by surprise. We enjoyed surfing the empty cove, scoring chest-high crumble that came in sets of three or four. I surfed Travis' 9 footer and had a blast. Plus, my shoulder was feeling strong and I had plenty good rides—partly because I went for every ripple that put me in a good position. Normally, I'm stressing a bit about managing the crowd and other people. But the only other people out there with me were Travis and Evan, who didn't care how well I surfed and were happy to share waves. 

We headed back to camp, ate a big pasta supper, and quietly retired to our respective dens. 

Hard saying how wet the morning fog will make our tents/shelters. Hopefully I can sleep under the stars one of these nights with the sound of the ocean in my ears. I haven't done that since the Florida days... 

If this Baja trip is anything like this evening, I'm overjoyed.

JG, 5/23/2022"

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Southern Swell Backpacking Overnight

Law school has ended, and a few months back Vitor and I talked about doing something adventurous during the first week of May. Due to various injuries and logistical complications we had to nix our climbing plans (Yosemite? Black Canyon?) and we started narrowing down alternatives.

We kind of wanted to ski, but we really wanted to bike. After talking through some multi-sport ideas, we finally settled on a bikepacking trip. Vitor sent me a loop published through Bikepacking mag; it covers nearly the entire zone of the San Rafael Swell that lies behind the "Reef." Thus, the route starts on the eponymous Behind the Reef Road, continues on high Sinbad Country, drops down into the wild Mars-scape that is Red's Canyon, climbs back up onto Sinbad Country, and ends behind the Reef. 

When I saw the route I was immediately drawn to it because it covered a substantial portion of the 'southern' Swell (the section below Interstate 70), an area that left a huge gap in my San Rafael Swell resume. 

For some reason the creators of the loop write about it on the mag as if they have to sell it to unsuspecting bikers. I guess nearby Fruita and Moab are pretty good for mountain biking. It's funny because I would choose exploring the Swell 10x over exploring any of those areas, which I think are crowded with bikers and other motorists on any given day. On the other hand, each time I visit the Swell I only see a handful of other people (save for the popular trailheads/jump off points) and I think it's some of the most wild country in this state. 

That's all to say I didn't need much convincing, even if I lacked both a capable bike and bikepacking gear. Oh well. This route seemed too good to pass up, so I rented a hardtail from REI and my neighbor let me borrow some of his bikepacking gear. 

The day of setting out, I loaded up the bike and thought "what the fuck, this is never going to go." With the storage capacity I had (~25 liters with my running vest, saddlebag, and handlebar bag), I doubted this would be enough to sustain me for 2-3 days. Vitor consoled me and said that he felt the same way when he packed his bike, and that I could certainly make it work. 

After removing several "essential items" and finding a way to rig my 4L bladder to the frame, I felt a bit more comfortable and believed that I could indeed make this work. Still, I was apprehensive. This was the most minimal I had gone on any overnight outing including the ultralight outings Libby and I have done in the desert.

Anyhow, Vitor and I pointed it down to the Swell on Wednesday evening. We staged a car at Tan Seep with a cooler full of beer, cheese, and water, assuming we would spend the second night there. After leaving the car, we arrived at Temple Mtn. Campground at around 11:30 and went to sleep. 

The next morning we made an aggressive amount of chorizo chili and scarfed it down burrito-style, ultimately setting off at around 9. 

After doing a couple of getting to know you laps on our loaded bikes, we were off. 

I was overly caffeinated and breezed through the first miles with a huge shit-eating grin. Here I was on my first bikepack—endless blue sky, nary a cloud, light and nimble as an antelope.  My bike didn't feel unnecessarily cumbersome and my padded liner shorts felt downright luxurious. This was going to be a great day. 

High pressure and sunshine dominated the sky throughout the morning hours. A slight breeze kept the sweat localized only to the small square of my back on which my runner vest rested. Things went very smoothly and we made the occasional stop to gawk at all of the geologic wonders, including remnants of the area's mining history. 

Apparently this history resulted in plenty of dubious jalopies being abandoned on the side of some lonely and improbable road. I'm still processing the fact that these roads, treacherous as they are, were in fact roads on which passenger cars would drive. 

These days, leaving the house and all of its domestic comforts to head deep into the Swell seems desirable—downright cool, even. But perhaps a century ago it seemed 100% crazy.


We continued to pedal through the rugged but mostly manageable Behind the Reef Road; the climbs and descents were both a breeze.

The heat of the day caught up to us, and things started to feel pretty dang western by the time we dropped into Cistern Canyon. I had to hike my bike for most of this descent, as my saddlebag prevented me from utilizing my dropper post. It was a steep incline with lots of football-sized cobbles and stones and loose sand. Dropping into the Wash proper was sandy and technical.

We took our first real break of the day, eating lunch in the shade of a massive boulder. Before dropping into Cistern, we had a good look at the ascent back out. It did not look easy nor fun (it can be seen in the middle of the following photo, cutting a diagonal path through the escarpment).

And so after forcing down some trail mix and a Complete Cookie (which I've realized I can barely stomach), we made the climb out of Cistern very slowly, hiking much of the way under the blazing sun. The air was dead still, the sun high. Sweat stung my eyes. 

Just as I began to feel slightly demoralized, I came across this massive boulder with delicate ripples, cantilevered on a protrusion of hardened sand. The rock was good and the angle on the rippled face was fierce. This could be one of the coolest lowball boulder problems in the desert. If only I had a penny for every classic boulder miles from anywhere... 

After ascending out of Cistern Canyon, we picked up an improved road that climbed at a gradual, easy grade. We looked at the map and confirmed that this would be our big (and final) climb of the day. After the previous rocky, sandy hike-a-bike ascent, I was ecstatic to be on smoother gravel and just steadily grinding up a long hill.

I started to tap into my reserve water about 3/4 of the way through this climb, and it was sort of fun to think through the scenario where we arrive at camp to a completely dry Muddy Creek. 

After topping out of the climb, we saw in the distance an obvious strip of bright green Cottonwoods. Camp?! Water?!

With good improved roads and lots of psych for a water refill, the long descent into Red's Canyon was lightning fast.

We made it to a beautiful, dusty camp right above Muddy Creek, which was mostly clear and a little more than ankle deep. Before filtering the following day's water, I took some time to soak in the creek and decompress after a long day. 

After filtering for a bit (about one backflush for every 2 liters filtered), I was ready to settle into camp. That typically means sitting down, eating, and getting right into my bag for bed. One of the reasons I love backpacking (and now bikepacking I guess) is because it pares life down to its most basic: you move all day, singularly focused on getting to point B, and then when you're at point B you can just chill the fuck out, eat, and go to sleep. So that's exactly what I did. I popped a melatonin and it had my eyes feeling heavy within minutes. 

Oh yeah, this wild horse came by our camp right as we were settling in. It was pretty friendly/unexcitable for a wild animal. 

I probably slept for about 10 hours of middling quality. It was all I needed because I woke up feeling rested and surprisingly not sore. Another nice thing about these minimalist adventures is that there's a relatively small amount of overhead—breaking down camp and getting things ready for the day only takes about 15 minutes. 

After some decent instant coffee (the key is to triple the recommended amount of coffee per serving) and a Very Scenic Poop, we were off at around 8:30 and fairly confident that we'd make it to Vitor's car at Tan Seep around noon. 

Red's Canyon was a trip. We spotted yet another cabin, more abandoned jalopies, and some of the coolest striated sandstone I've ever seen. Super Mario Stone. 

It was apparent pretty quickly that the sun would be much stronger today than the day before. The idea was to crank out the big ascent to Tan Seep, refuel and nap at Vitor's car in the shade, and finish the day off in the cooler late-afternoon hours. 

The climb out of Red's Canyon was uneventful if not consistent. The towering Wingate/Navajo sandstone walls to our N-NW provided some eye candy and daydreams about being scared and up high. 

During this climb, Vitor and I had a very high-frequency conversation about life, motivation in the hills, developing and maintaining relationships, etc. It seemed to me that my motivations have changed pretty considerably over the years. Where I used to be very objective-oriented, I now find myself prioritizing the people with whom I head into the mountains rather than the mountains themselves. Leading up to this trip, I could've told Vitor, "Well, I'm in good climbing shape so I'm going to climb. Sorry bud!" But that would simply miss the point of why I like being in the hills in the first place. 

Anyhow, the climbers in us could not resist scrambling up this gorgeous low angle boulder we found along the way. 

After riding through much loose sand, Red's Canyon turned into Sinbad Country and the road improved. We even started to see some passenger cars. Goddamn, I love Sinbad Country.

We made it to Vitor's car ahead of schedule and drank some cold beers from the cooler. It was hot and we were rationing sunscreen. We both attempted to nap for a little while. When we awoke, it was only 1:30 and we knew we had a lot of hours to go before riding in the dead sun seemed enjoyable again. But with only 10-15 miles left (most of which were downhill), we made the choice to complete the loop in the heat of the day.

Back on some improved roads for a bit after Tan Seep and then it got real cobbly/loose. I felt bad for Vitor on his fully rigid frame but knew he would survive. He remained in good spirits and continued to be the great partner that he'd been the entire time.

Temple Mountain came into sights and we decided to return on the old mining roads to its west. Big paintbrushed lenticular clouds hung overhead. 

The old mining roads were a blast (never thought I'd catch air while backpacking), and we made it back to the trailhead within an hour and a half from leaving Tan Seep. 

Rough stats:

- 70 miles

- 8,500 ft of climbing

- Completed over the course of 30 hours

- 3 liters of water carried per day

Bikepacking is mega satisfying, particularly because we covered around 70 miles of wild country in a matter of a day and a half. While we stayed mostly outside of the Swell's rugged canyons, the bike was a great way to get a macro-level view of this zone. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Spring 2022 Wrap-up

It feels like so much and so little has happened since I posted last in October. For one, I was wrong about my feeling that the winter would be really good. It was just okay. The excitement for splitboarding was quite low (the lowest it's been maybe ever) and so I spent much time in the climbing gym regaining lost fitness. 

I've also been skateboarding a lot, mostly with Sam and Taylor, and it's been fulfilling reconnecting with that part of me. Skateboarding, like surfing, is maybe one of the more 'soulful' activities I do, aside from maybe strumming around on my guitar. It's been a part of me since I was 10 and I don't think it'll ever leave. But fuck, it hurts sometimes. I've hurt myself skateboarding a lot, but luckily it's mostly bruises and twists and the pain never lasts more than a few days. 

I've gotten way behind on posting on here, and though I didn't do anything too epic this past spring there were some good times in the hills that I'd like to memorialize. 

Hallway Couloir, 1/15/22

Riley and Bryan came into town. They were kinda worked from some previous adventure snowboarding in the Bears and I felt woefully out of shape, so we had a semi-ambitious plan of hitting Main Days, climbing back up the ridge, and then exiting via Hallway. We parked in Cardiff and approached from Days because it was the weekend and you can no longer park in upper LCC without a permit during that time.

The approach tired us out more than we expected, so we waffled between hitting either Main Days or Hallway. We ultimately chose Hallway because we knew the snow would not be good, and at least the couloir provided an interesting position. 

After sidescraping down into the chute proper (it does NOT go from the notch on the saddle; at least not with the amount of snow that day), we made chunky/difficult/crusty turns all the way down into the Tube, which had some playful windbuffed/dry condensed powder. 

Doesn't go from here!

Bryan perfecting the art of using your edge on a snowboard

Me (photo: RR)

Bozeman Trip, 1/27–1/30

It always feels so nice to get out of the dusty, barren landscape that is the Great Basin and enter a world of dense Douglas fir, cold streams, and grizzly bears. The drive from SLC->Island Park drags and drags, but I always feel revitalized after climbing out of Ashton and onto the Yellowstone Caldera. 

In fact I was feeling so good on the drive up (and the weather was so perfect) that I decided to go for a quick lap on Telemark Meadows, which is in the YSNP boundaries. It was a beautiful evening--I had the meadows all to myself. 

The snow was definitely just okay. It hadn't snowed in over a few weeks, but the powder on top of what I assume was November's icy/chunky layer was dry.

The next day Jerad, Todd, and I decided to hit Big Ellis. My first experience there a couple of years ago was fun but unremarkable. I actually think it was the first ever out of bounds slidepath I ever rode my snowboard down. 

Anyhow, the snow was marginal but catching up with Jerad and Todd was fun. I'm glad I can go back to Bozeman and pick up right where I left off with old friends. 

Todd gettin' it on the rad and imposing slopes of Big Ellis

I definitely do not miss needing to walk super far for 500'-1000' of riding, but dang being outside in cold Montana sure is nice 

Sunset over Peet's Hill. I spent a lot of time on this hill when I lived in Bozeman—both for work and for fun. That's another thing Bozeman has going for it over SLC: a singletrack trail network, right in town.

The next day Aden and I met up with Libby and Westy (who are now husband and wife!) to go climbing at Whiskey Gulch. I was impressed with the stone. It's seriously so good! I really miss igneous bouldering such as this, which reminded me a lot of the gneiss in Connecticut. But I won't speak too loudly—I don't want the LCC boulders to sense my fear. 

Libby pulling down on something hard in Whiskey

I flashed a V4 that day and hopped on my first V7 since the injury I incurred in Joe's back in October. It felt great. I think it ignited the flame for hard climbing once again, and I've been bouldering more now than I ever have since leaving CT in 2018. 

I finished off the short trip with a couple of laps up Flanders with Jerad and Peter. The last time Peter and I got together, we were deep in the Missouri Headwaters Relay, which was mostly a miserable experience bookended by a very fun picnic. It was great to hang with Peter and to get up in Hyalite. We eyed the entire 'Hyalite-Blackmore' traverse, and I'd love to come back one day with some fitness and get that done.

The exit was about as fun as any Hyalite exit, but I've vastly refined my splitskiing skills over the years and it went just about as smoothly as it could have. 

Until next time Bozeman. 

Blind Hollow Yurt Trip, 2/6–2/9

It was time to return to the Blind Hollow Yurt. I knew it would be hard to be our 2020 trip, where we had maybe some of the best powder I've ever had the pleasure of riding. In fact, it hadn't snowed in the Bears in weeks and we had no idea what kind of snow we would be dealing with, but we did know that it wouldn't be very good. Anyway, we had a solid crew and we were all ready to hunker down with eachother in very confined quarters for a few days.

Atleast the sun shone for almost the entirety of the trip

The snow and riding was quite unremarkable, but we got on top of the 'Sisters' each day and had fun catching up with each other and skiing with the hand we were dealt. 

Like most yurt trips I've been on, my favorite memories were goofing off at the Yurt. We packed the yurt to max capacity, and the spare cots provided to us were mostly broken. It took us a solid 45 drunken minutes to set one of them up. The unfortunate part was that they took up so much floorspace that we had to break them down every morning. Setting them back up was a drunken chore that haunted us for most of the trip.

One morning Connor, Grace, Emma and I decided to break off and go check out some steeper north-facing stuff. Seeing small crowns on the exact same aspect one drainage over scared us away from our original plan, so we chose something more manageable and east facing. It was really fun. We called it the J-Tube. 

Connor on the upper crux of the J-Tube

When all was said and done we had a fair bit of skiing and a lot of working our way through our booze cache. Luckily every ounce of alcohol and most of the food had been accounted for, and we zipped out on the final day and said our goodbyes. I probably won't see Aden and Biz for another half a year or so (they're hiking the PCT), so the times spent with Bozeman pals are always to be cherished.

Tri Chute, Birthday Chute, 2/19/22

I think Nick has had a hell of a time coaxing me out of my hole and getting me onto snow this season. Luckily I had been wanting to ride both Tri Chute and Birthday Chute in one single tour for a while now, and when Nick agreed to the plan I got excited for splitboarding again. 

We made pretty good time into White Pine proper and reached the top of Red Stack in about 3 hours. The skinning wasn't too bad and I didn't even feel like I needed ski crampons (but of course they would've been nice). 

We hit Tri Chute in about the best conditions we could've asked for that day. It's a fairly cool run, but it seems like it's difficult to get it in good condition from the top because it's seemingly hammered by wind on a constant basis. 

After Tri Chute we made the long climb back up to the top of Red Stack about 5 hours into the day. I felt like I was moving really well that day despite touring very little this season. We chose the Birthday Chute that I believe was the furthest looker's left. It was fun, hardpacked dry snow. 

We decided to exit out of Scottie's bowl, which I think was the right call. The north-facing shot easily had the best snow out of any of the runs we descended that day. Plus we avoided the low angle forest road exit. For White Pine tours, I'll probably exit out of Scottie's every time if conditions allow. 

I felt like this linkup was a very logical way to check out most of the good stuff off of Red Stack, with the Scottie's exit a nice bonus). About 6,500' total.

Ankle Roll, 2/21/2022

I can't sit still so on a crummy winter day I decided to go check out some spots in downtown SLC. I wasn't super warmed up but felt like my BS noseslides were on lock so I tried one on the Gallivan brick ledge. The first one I landed went well but I wanted to slide longer and pop out a bit more...

And then I rolled my ankle pretty hard; probably the hardest I have in a while. Urghhhh. I made a very slow limp back to my car, which was about 3/4 mile from Gallivan. 

Light yoga for the foreseeable future!

Quick Desert Hit w/ Libby, 3/4–3/6

With a bum ankle and some desire to head down to the desert, Libby and I set off for a quick weekend boondocking and poking around in the desert. Our first stop was a pulloff along Highway 24 south of I70. 

For some reason I love rolling into a place in the dark not knowing really what the views from camp will look like. I was intentional about backing the truck into the pulloff so it would face the Reef, which I knew would be lit up by the sun in the morning. I wasn't wrong, and it was a great view from bed.

Shortly after sunrise I fired up some coffee. Libby and I sat on a rock and enjoyed watching the weather move in around us. It looked like it was raining elsewhere, but we stayed dry.

The plan after that was to point it south toward Hanksville and eventually to an overpass in the road that bisected our objective for the day: Maidenwater Canyon. Highway 24 is a cool highway, and I'd love to take it and Highway 95 all the way to Blanding one day. So far we've driven most of that route with the major gap being Hite to Natural Bridges. Driving is not always cool, but it typically is when you're surrounded by lonely red rock country. I love the desert!!! 

Anyhow, Maidenwater was a sweet, mellow canyon with mostly uneventful obstacles save for an invigorating hip-deep wade. We had fairly scant beta downloaded onto my phone, and while we wanted to climb out of the canyon via Trail Canyon and overland back to the car, it was taking us too long to find the exit. So we backtracked all of the way instead.

We had a mellow evening at an empty Sandthrax Campground, playing chess and cooking. The next morning we contemplated descending Hogwarts Canyon, but the skies threatened rain so we returned home. 

Spaceshot Attempt, Zion National Park, 3/11–3/12

At some point this spring I decided to buy atriers and start practicing aid climbing. I read thee aid climbing book, spent some time in the gym and at home dialing in systems, and practiced some aid leading in Little Cottonwood Canyon. When I told Greg that I was getting pysched on learning how to aid climb, he expressed interest in doing an introductory aid route with me.

This was very nice of him; Greg is quite the accomplished mountain human. He's climbed El Cap a handful of times, he's aided many routes in Zion, and he's also logged some impressive Alaska ski descents. I knew that if there was ever a time to really learn aid climbing, it would be with someone like him.

We decided on Spaceshot because it's a relatively short wall, and supposedly the aid climbing isn't that tricky at C2/C2+ (we were kind of wrong). To really achieve the full effect, Greg advocated that we climb it wall style rather than smash-and-grab, which is what a lot of parties do for Spaceshot. 

We get into Zion fairly early and headed up the wall mid-morning. I made a short Instagram story thing describing my experience on the route, so if you want the full details, go check it out there. 

Whiskey turned out to be a critical item in the haul bag. It was there with me when I fired off my first aid lead, and it was there when we decided to bail and hang out on a large, open ledge. 

I now understand the difficulty of covering long distances with a haulbag. 

Our haulbag got stuck on the low-angle approach pitches. I was bone thirsty throughout this whole endeavor, and it was really fun working with Greg and using my knowledge of ropes/anchors to problem solve our way out of things. That was actually my favorite part of the whole experience. There would be a constant back and forth about how to optimize certain plans. Greg would suggest one thing, I would counter-suggest another thing, and eventually we would decide on a plan of action that we deemed the most efficient.

Eventually we got to our bivy ledge and I fired off the bolt ladder lead. Turns out C1 is no indication of how 'easy' the pitch would feel. Stepping in the top rung of my atriers was very strenuous, and it took me a while to make progress. Greg played music to encourage me, and he also managed to set up camp while belaying me. Wall climbing was starting to feel like a lot of work. 

For some reason I could NOT stomach the canned chili despite being hungry, so I duct-taped it shut hoping that I would regain some hunger. I knew this was a bad sign. Before too long we were in the portaledge trying to go to sleep, but my stomach felt way off. At one point I was sitting up with my head hanging off the side of the portaledge, ready to puke. Luckily it passed. I was not excited at the prospect of getting sick during my first portaledge experience. 

The next morning Greg ascending to my high point and fired off the rest of the pitch. He hung around for maybe 1.5 hours below one specific placement. Luckily we brought my tricams and the pitch just barely went.

I belayed Greg for about 2.5 hours, maybe more. This required a lot of patience. I listened to music and podcasts on my phone while I waited. The jugging went quick, and I made it to our first hanging belay of the day. The next pitch is supposed to be the hardest, and I was not the most excited about hanging out on an exposed belay for another 2.5, 3 hours. 

Greg and I discussed how indeed we were going quite slow, and it was questionable whether we'd even make it to the Earth Orbit Ledge by nightfall. After some deliberation, we decided to 'soft' bail. We could've kept going, but I lacked the motivation. It was a great lesson in just how gnarly wall climbing can be. 

I have no distinct desire to go back to Zion and attempt Spaceshot again. I'm not sure if and when the psych for aid climbing will return, but it was a meaningful experience for me and I'm glad Greg humored me in giving it a go. 

Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park, 3/26

After getting shut down on Spaceshot, weeks later I threw out the idea to Greg that we should go ski Wheeler Peak in GBNP. 

There was something alluring about the Snake Range of Nevada, which lies plumb dead in the middle of barren Great Basin country. It's such a strange national park; there's not a ton of access points, there's little pretense in the surrounding towns (there's barely any towns, come to think of it), and there's a stark lack of the hubbub you find at other national parks. 

It was eerie rolling up to the empty trailhead late at night, with warm air and the winds howling high overhead. 

We awoke proper early and started the long, low-angle skin into the drainage.

Despite very warm feeling air, the clouds remained overhead, the wind continued to blow, and the snow on the ascent stayed firm. We knew we'd have to dial back our original plans a little bit. 

Evidently Wheeler Peak gets hammered by wind from all directions. The ascent was a mixture of hardpack skinning, to booting up loose talus, to walking along a dry summer trail.

It was starting to feel like a proper old-guy mountaineering experience!

The last 1000' were a slog; the altitude certainly slowed me down. We stopped at the top for about 30 minutes to take everything in, and we realized there's definitely a lot of skiing to be had here. I'd love to come back and access from the drainage to the south and get some of those fine-looking corn runs. 

The skiing down was quite marginal but at least the clouds started to part. There was one 600' ribbon of nice windbuffed snow that afforded some fun turns. Very quickly we entered into the land of schmoo, and the descent back to the trailhead was slow and arduous. 

The riding conditions were nothing to write home about, but it was fun summiting Wheeler Peak with my splitboard. It felt like more of a mountaineering experience than a ski mountaineering experience, but that was fine with me. 

Spring has Sprung in the Wasatch, 3/27

Not really much to report on this fun outing in LCC aside from a gnarly wet slide coming off of Perla's Ridge that sounded like a freight train moving through the canyon. Impressive stuff. 

Nick and I were very glad to be on the other side of the canyon when this happened. 

Icefall, 4/3

Icefall remained an enticing line ever since I walked away from it last May. Luckily things lined up on this day and Nick and I scored it in excellent corn conditions. Probably some of the best corn I've ridden in a long, long time.

Nick and I chose to drop in from the steep skier's left entrance (maybe 45-50 deg?). Conditions were perfect for this angle. I took the first turns down and hooted and hollered as the corn was soft yet supportable. 

We both ripped it pretty fast to the bottom of the run, and made the very warm and exposed skin back up to East Pass. Shards of quartzite talus reigned down on us on the lower portions of the exit, and we tried moving as quickly as possible. 

Icefall is a very high quality corn descent; it has a little bit of everything. This was probably my favorite run of the season, which isn't saying a ton because this past season I didn't really splitboard anything major. Still, I'd ride Icefall again in a heartbeat. 

North Chimney, Castletown Tower, 4/15

Ben told me to clear my calendar for this weekend because we both wanted to get some desert tower climbing in. Desert tower climbing felt a lot like a rite of passage for the adventure climber. I had been climbing fairly well leading up to this weekend and I was ready for whatever Castleton would have to throw at us.

I'd never climbed with Ben, although I had spent plenty of time with him, so I didn't know exactly what I was getting into. He ended up being a great partner and I'm psyched to share a rope with him again. 

The tower of all desert towers

The approach to any of the climbs on Castleton is non-trivial

We were prepared to climb either the Kor Ingalls or the North Chimney depending on wind and crowds. We turned the corner from the North Chimney to the KI and winds were practically unbearable. We had to yell to eachother and our wind layers fluttered like flimsy sails in stormy seas. North Chimney it is.

After waiting behind a guided party with a client who was just learning how to crack climb (probably 1.5 hours of waiting), Ben set off on the first pitch, which (I thought) was a physical double crack dihedral on vertical rock. I think this would be a 5.9+ or even a 10 considering the start anywhere else in the desert, but we were on Castleton where tradition rules the day.

I followed the pitch and felt like my back was soaked in water. It turns out that I forgot to fully screw on the cap for the bladder. Oops.

We made a speedy changeover on the top of pitch 1, and perhaps to not make Ben think I was a total chuffer, I was very deliberate in starting up the offwidth pitch with little hesitation. 

The first couple of bodylengths were very easy, and then came the offwidth which protected splendidly with a 6. I walked it up a few few from a good stance and fired off the true offwidth section, using feet out left. This was a pretty difficult section of climbing. I had to catch my breath for a minute or two afterwards. 

The climb does not really let up either. I continued up the chimney, climbing past several refrigerator-sized chockstones that either require classic chimneying, delicate stemming, or boulder-y layback sequences. All of the X'ed chockstones/flakes add to the excitement and make the movement much more interesting. It was an excellent pitch and I'm glad I led it. 

One can probably climb the North Chimney in the dead summer and feel fairly comfortable. It was a seasonably warm day in the desert, but I stayed cold as I belayed Ben up the pitch. 

Ben took the last two pitches, linking them together. The third pitch starts with some attention-grabbing stem moves off of the belay and then eases up once you exit the chimney and into a gulley with easier climbing. However, this gulley is terrifying because it's filled with evidently loose blocks. 

The fourth pitch is very short but offers some interesting face climbing to the summit. 

The summit super impressive! I don't think I've ever been on top of a formation with sheer 360 degree views. 

We hung out at the top of the summit for a bit and enjoyed rifling through the summit register, which is a bit of a freak scene. 

We decided to rap the North Face, which had one of the scarier rappels I've ever done. It's a sheer drop with lots of exposure, and the fact that you kind of need to just commit and fall back into your rappel rig is a bit puckering. Luckily there's a tiny ledge for your feet that you can down mantle to and gather your bearings. 

Luckily we brought two ropes, because one of our ropes got stuck on the first rappel. Weird, because the rap rings are the size of grapefruits.

This was Ben's brand spanking new rope that got stuck, so we spent an hour trying to free it but with little luck. We made the final two rappels somewhat defeated. 

When all was said and done we climbed the tower in around 3 hours. The rappels would have went lightning fast had we not got our rope stuck.

Next time I'm in the adventure/alpine climbing mood but the high mountains are shut down with snow, I certainly will consider going down to the desert and checking out more towers. They're adventurous indeed.

As we hiked down the trail, we noticed another party rapping down the North Face. Surprisingly enough they heard our yells from below. They told us that they would be happy to retrieve our rope, which was a super solid move on their part. We were informed that our rope somehow wound itself into a figure-eight on a bight, which then got caught up in one of the rap chains. WTF? I guess we somehow managed to fix our rope from the bottom. Weird stuff. This was a good lesson in bringing two ropes on climbs such as these, because sometimes you just can't help from getting your rope stuck even if you do seemingly everything right.

The forecast for the next days called for harrowing winds, and while we wanted to climb Lonely Vigil on the Lighthouse Tower, we settled for lowlier pursuits and went bouldering in Big Bend. I managed to get Brown Power on the second go, which gets my vote as the best moderate in the area. 

That day we drove all the way to Joe's. It rained on the drive up, and we hoped it would be dry enough the following morning. That night we drank some beers at the Right Fork campground and enjoyed a beautiful moonrise over the canyon. 

Thankfully the windy clear night helped the drying process and we spent a few hours in the Mansize area the following morning. I managed to nab a send of Great White, a climb I worked back in October. The key was switching up the beta from a scrunchy toe hook to a powerful dyno, which admittedly is more my style. It paid off! Bouldering in Joe's is thee best.

Baja Chronicles Pt. 2

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