Thursday, February 14, 2013

San Diego & Joshua Tree

Thursday I went to my job for a few hours in the morning and then rushed off to grab lunch with a friend in Morgantown and then catch my flight. I arrived at the airport Thursday evening in San Diego to be greeted (complete with slow-mo run and hug) by Mandy at the terminal. We went to her house and spent a lazy evening drinking wine and chatting with her roommate. Good way to end a day of travel.

California morning
Friday we woke early, me on my EST schedule and Mandy on her bird-watch schedule. We showered and had a lovely little breakfast. I reveled in the fact that "omg I'm in California" for awhile as I doted on the [uncovered] pool in the backyard and the palms and green grass and [mostly] blue skies and [realtive] warmth.

We rendezvous'd with her boyfriend Derrick (finally, we met!) and headed to the San Diego zoo for the morning. I'd been when I was 8, but this was my first return trip to San Diego (and Cali in general). Cruising a zoo as a kid is loads of fun, but I think cruising it as a young adult was just as much fun. Two biologists and a botanist made for quite the fun time walking around. We all are so well-versed in various animal and plant knowledge that we were able to point out specific things to one another and learn from that just as much as we could have from reading the signs. (Pff, who does that? No, kidding, we did...a little.) It was a long morning of walking (in the rain at times), and we really carved out some crazy hunger.

We left the zoo around noon and headed to get some Mexican food at Baja Betty's in the gay part of town. I loved it. The food and the people. Our waiter was awesome. Our margaritas were insanely strong. I swear he just put food coloring in with the alcohol to make it look like he'd added flavor. And he gave us free shots post-meal. No real idea why, but he did. Definitely one of the happiest people (and best waiters) I've met in a long time.

Post-alcohol...I mean, post-lunch...we went to Whole Foods. These don't exist it my neck of the woods and I love them. I was ecstatic about being there. If I move to an area that has one one day I will have a hard time not blowing all my money buying kickass food and beer. Love, love, love.

We went home to put our groceries away then swung by Derrick's place to snag his roomie Zoe and we all headed to Tiger Tiger - a bar for hipsters. I've never been surrounded by so many hipsters...ever. It was...interesting. Food was excellent, beer, too. We had a really good time and I totally didn't almost fall asleep at the table due to jet lag...
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Saturday dawned and we prepped and left for Joshua Tree for two days of climbing. The drive was relatively uneventful. I reveled at the difference in the landscape from San Diego to Joshua tree. California is so extreme. I loved seeing so many changes in such a sort span.

We stopped in the town of Joshua Tree to gas up one more time, get firewood, a hatchet and some this-n-that postcards/stickers/patches/books. A small mob of us trucked back and forth across the street between shops multiple times trying to gather what we needed. It was rather comical.

As we drove into the town, there were some J Trees around, but upon entry to the park their density increased 10 fold. It was incredible. Sparsely scattered in comparison to a typical forest, but it was a forest all the same. And the fact that it takes those trees hundreds of years to reach the size they were was even more impressive and added to the impact of seeing them for the first time.

We tried to find a campsite at Hidden Valley because we wanted to hit up the climbing in that area, but they were all taken so we headed to Jumbo Rocks instead where we were quickly able to score two adjacent sites.

We set up camp in short order, nommed some [more] food and found a crag within walking distance.

Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Climbing guidebook directions have improved, but in my experience they're all notoriously tricky. These directions (walk 250 ft down said trail, turn right into boulder garden, follow to brush-choked valley, turn left into slot canyon to reach crag) were so much more simply stated than they turned out to be. We failed epically.

We got the first three parts of the directions right, but we totally missed the slot canyon and got semi-lost. We could see the road a short distance from where we were so we knew we weren't lost-lost, but we joked about it. And then folks walked by us on an established trail no more than 20 ft from us. -_- We fail.

We found the crag with a little more effort, though the approach we chose was heinous and a little dangerous. I ended up with Zoe holding my back and Derrick holding my foot as I slid-climb-jumped between two rock formations. Once that was conquered we had to down-climb a chimney formation. Lovely. But. FINALLY. We were at the crag.

A lot of the J Tree roped climbing I witnessed/read/and experienced while there had walk-offs from the top-out. Henry walked to the top of this climb (okay, so walk makes it sound a lot easier than it really is), a 5.10b (which was right beside this B-E-A-Utiful 5.9 trad crack the guidebook gave 4 stars called Boulderado that left me wishing we had trad gear), and dropped the rope and then rapped down. No leading today. We were losing sunlight and a lot of the group were first-timers outside of the gym.

I was first up after Henry rapped down. Climbing granite is a lot different from climbing sandstone. And climbing slopey slab and cracks is different from our vertical New River Gorge and Seneca climbing in WV. (I apologize for all of my climber jargon. For those curious folks unfamiliar with it, go here.)

Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Don't ask.
Photo by Mandy Weston
I struggled at the beginning of the climb, gave up on a small section and jugged up in the interest of daylight and others climbing, but climbed the large majority of it. I'm out of shape, and it was tricky figuring out slopers, slab, and a hand crack, but my mind and body slowly remembered days past in the gym and outside. I put it all together and sent it. Not a textbook or a very pretty send, but a send all the same. And, believe it or not (for those reading this that know my past whining about cracks and slopers) I really got into a groove with that crack and kicked its ass, and the slopers and I sort of became better friends. Sort of.

Others from our party took turns on the climb. With the waning sunlight and eventual sunset though the already cool (50s + wind) desert became downright chilly and people headed back to camp. It ended up being Henry and I as I'd volunteered to give him a ride up so he could take the rope down and then walk down instead of walking all of it.

He ended up climbing (and I ended up belaying) in the dark by the light of our headlamps. Pretty sweet experience. Once he was at the top and off-belay I waited while he pulled up the rope and then headed out the slot canyon in the dark to meet him somewhere on the other side.

While this little slot canyon was tiny (100-200 ft. long) in comparison to those one may find in Utah or other western areas, it was my first experience traversing through one - and it was memorable since it was at night. I went right and scrambled up some boulders when I emerged. I looked up for Henry where I suspected he'd maybe be coming down and there he was. Perfect timing. 

Together, we retraced our former path and wandered back into camp. 

We all made various dinners, got the fire going, indulged in some excellent beer (okay, I indulged in some good beer at least because I brought a Ranger IPA with me), and sat around the fire joking for a few hours. The fire played off the rock formation beside/behind us creating a really unique atmosphere. Very memorable.

Photo by Mandy Weston
The night ended up being very, very cold - 20s I'd say, but I didn't have a thermometer. I'd brought my 45 degree bag in place of a sleeping bag liner and doubled it up inside Mandy's extra 20 degree bag. I. Was. Toasty. It was glorious.
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I was the first person up the next morning. I could tell the sun wasn't quite up, so I snagged my camera and set out to try to capture some morning color dancing off the rocks. The sunrise wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't too shabby either.

Not long after I returned to camp the others were starting to awake. We alternated between putting up our tents and making/eating breakfast with standing in the sun which was hitting the road beside our campsite. Oh, the glorious sun. Lizards we were, basking away as much as we could in it. 

Eventually tents were put away and we were all basking. I sat down on a rock by Henry and grabbed up one guide book while he had another and we schemed out our day. Our ideal location was more of a hike than we were willing to do that day (to Outer Mongolia in the Wonderland area, I believe), and we somehow ended up looking at the exact same location in our different books - Solarium, Echo Rock area. It had a concentration of sport climbs (we had no trad gear) and a short, seemingly [once again] simple approach. 

The drive was short and the approach was truly simple. We were at the crack in a few short minutes. Those climbing hucked ourselves up on the rock and began basking and prepping ropes and gear while Mandy and Zoe set off to find a basking lounge on an adjacent rock to get photos from.

Henry put up a 5.7 and 5.10a in short order.

I climbed the 10a first as I knew my hands (sore and busted from hand jamming the crack the previous day) wouldn't handle too much and I wanted to do the harder climb while I was fresh (I'm so not in awesome climbing shape, blah!).

I'm second on the left sitting.
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Climbing the 10a
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
Photo by Mandy Weston
The climb was tricky in a few places, but definitely doable. I had to work with the slopers and slab more than I wanted, but I figured it out. Fancy footwork for the win. Yay being short.

The 7 was much simpler. The slabbiness for the first half confused me, but I got up the climb without much difficulty - I'm not even sure I took a hang on that one. There was a great stemming move 3/4 of the way up the climb that was fun. I haven't gotten to apply stemming outside the gym very much. 

My hands were whooped and I decided to call it quits before I really tore them up. I was pleased with my climbing despite not doing much of it the past two years, and really thrilled with my overall J Tree climbing experience. 

I belayed Henry on a 10d he wanted to try though. Tricky move above the third bolt had his calling card that day though. Crimp and a high foot. While I am a lover of all things crimpy because my east coast climbing has a lot of it, he was very unaccustomed to it. His strengths were slab and slopers where mine were crimps and vertical. Fun to experience the difference though. I definitely enjoyed it.

Post-climbing we headed back to the city where we gorged on both In-n-Out Burger and sushi for dinner (and I finally indulged in Ruthless Rye - my favorite of all Sierra Nevada beers) while watching reruns of Dexter Season 4. Pretty awesome end to a great day.
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Monday dawned and I packed my stuff. Mandy and I picked up Derrick and Zoe and headed to the beach for breakfast. 

We went to a little surfer joint along the coast called New Break. Fancy (modestly-priced) entrees, fancy coffee and coffee-like drinks, surfer crowd, free-form jazz, and some abstract art. You might be a hipster when... But seriously. Great place. Totally recommend it and would totally go back.

We wandered out to the beach post-breakfast so I could touch the water. At 3 months, this is the shortest amount of time I've gone between seeing both the Atlantic and Pacific (Cape May in Novemeber and San Diego now).

We wandered along the beach and out onto the pier to watch the surfers for awhile. The day was the warmest one since I'd been in town. We soaked up the sun for a good while on that pier. I wasn't ready to leave, but sadly I had to.

My first flight arrived over an hour early to DC (score!) and I caught my other flight with ease. 

The plane landing in Morgantown was, as Mandy would say, crayball. It was windy and the approach to the airfield was ROUGH. I have never felt nauseous in a plane before, but I was beginning to have a hard time. Had to force myself to breathe deep and focus on it. I wasn't nervous because I figured these pilots do 4-5 flights in and out of Morgantown/day, so no big deal.

The actual landing though? Egads. Plane (smaller prop plane) had been pitching and rolling all over the place during the approach. It settled out for the last part of the landing, but the actual touchdown got my adrenaline pumping a bit. Left rear wheel hit then the right rear wheel - probably about a full second between the two touching down. Within another 3 seconds the front wheel finally slammed into the ground and then the plane went left-right-left-right subtly, but with enough force that I wondered if we would spin out on the runway. The reverse thrusters (or whatever) kicked on and stabilized us, but damn. Rough.

Drive home was quick and despite being 75 miles I only passed 4 cars going the opposite direction. Made it from airport to home in 1h 28m. Record time. 

Slept a couple hours and was back to the grind trying to juggle my many tasks by 7a the next morning. Jet-lag schmet-lag. No, honestly, I had little issue with the transition, fortunately. 

It was a short jam-packed trip, but boy was it awesome.

Photo by Mandy Weston


  1. Very cool! When steve and I were together we hit up San Diego... went to the zoo, although in the evening and got kicked out at closing time and we went to the wild safari place where they let the african animals free roam. Didn't go anywhere to see Joshua trees or the gay part of town... we hit up Old San Diego a lot that is primarily mexican (wonder why?) ha.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, and squeed with happiness when I realized that you had totez legit used 'crayball' (I hate myself a little for writing that last sentence). Glad you had a good time, and please come back soon!!