Archive for October, 2008

Picking splinters out of my thighs…

So with the weather making it too wet to climb outside, but not enough snow yet to ski, I’ve been pushed into the rock gym and back to trail running. My legs really aren’t up to the pounding, so I’ve been starting slow, with shorter runs and a lot of time off in between to let my feet and knees get re-acquainted to the work.

So on the 24th I checked out Lynch Canyon for the first time. This is the open space I stumbled across during a run on what I thought was some ranchers property. Well, it is some ranchers property, as all the cows will demonstrate, but its become open space and is accessible for hikers, bikers, and horses. Not to shabby.

Photo: Looking up North Lynch Canyon. The Middle Canyon turns left at the trees.

I ended up running for 40 minutes instead of the 30 I had planned, but I ran up the Middle fork along dirt road before turning right on cow-paths-turned-trails to cross the ridge and drop along the South Canyon back toward the interstate before crossing back to the car park. There were a lot of cows with calves, making them a little more aggressive and less likely to run off as I approached. So I just worked on avoided the calves as much as I could and didn’t have any trouble.

A few days later I returned to Lake Herman, the site of my last post. I hoped that I’d discover a use trail circumnavigating the lake when I left my car and started running counter-clockwise. All sorts of water birds were in a constant panic as I ran along the shore. In less than 10 minutes I ran into a bramble and turned away from the water – trying to outflank it by running inland. No luck – I stopped when I reached the road and turned back. When I reached the car flocks of Canada geese and turkeys had mingled together on the grass – with three of the turkeys puffing up and strutting to try to impress the hens. Pretty neat. To make my time I continued on around the lake clockwise and ran up the hill that makes the north end of the dam. After stopping at a small sunset shack I headed down the other side of Colima Herman and headed back to the car.

Photo: The view across Lake Herman from the top of Herman Hill. I was able to follow a common use/deer trail along the shore until I reached the grove of trees in the photo. From there I tried to run inland but stopped when I reached the road and turned back.

When I got home I looked at the wreckage that were my legs. There are a lot of sharp prickly things in California’s grasslands, and brush ups against my thighs left welts all over. More surprising were the splinters I found right above me knees. I had to scare up a pair of tweezers to remove them, and have no idea where they came from!

Lake Herman probably has one or two more interesting runs left, and will always be a fun way to add distance to the Vallejo-Benicia Ridge trail system (it connects). Lynch Canyon, on the other hand, so much bigger, and has at least 6 more loops that could last over an hour and four ridges good for some real cross country.


First Run of the Fall – 18 October

I haven’t gotten to run since June. It was great today to take an hour and check out a nearby unknown – Lake Herman. Located in the hills between Benicia and Vallejo, Lake Herman is one of Benicia’s reservoirs. According to the maps, a single trail links the lake to the Vallejo-Benicia Ridge Trail system, so I thought to go check it out.
I found a great place for short to mid-length runs. More exploring will determine if a trail circumnavigates the entire lake. Even if there isn’t, there is still a maze of trails to explore amongst the hills surrounding the lake.
I only ran out-and-back for 30 minutes, but I’m looking forward to heading back and running at Lake Herman more.

Rock Skills for Rock Beekers: Buttermilks to Crystal Crag

From 11-14 October I worked with a geology team representing Occidental University, Central Washington University, and Penn State. They’re going to be heading down to Antarctica this winter to collect samples from the Transantarctic Range, and wanted to develop some 3rd-class and fixed rope rock skills. I had glorious plans of climbing some of the most classic 3rd class routes on the peaks accessible in a day from the highway, when one of our first storms of the fall blanketed the mountains in snow and made the days cold. So some quick thinking turned up days in the Buttermilks, North Bluffs of June Lake, Crystal Crag, and Iris Slab.

This is what I believe Sierra Mountain Center really excels at – custom trips for people with unique objectives. They didn’t have any summits or routes in mind. Instead, Anne contacted us and said, “This is what we’re capable of, this is what we want to get out of the weekend.” And SMC was able to make a great experience.

Chris is an Alpine, Ski, and Rock Guide for SMC, and an AMGA Certified Alpine Guide. You can read more about his adventures at Climb.Ski.Run.Sleep.Repeat.

Fall Rock Climbing!!

I just finished what is likely to be my last alpine trip for the season this weekend. The day we said goodbye in Bishop it was just reaching 70 degrees. Fall is here, the aspens have turned golden, and the top of the peaks are dusted with snow. Its time to break out the skis, sharpen the tools, and get ready for another winter…
Forget that – let’s go rock climbing!
Seriously, now that its getting damn cold in the mountains, the temperatures in the valleys just can’t be beat. We’re talking highs in the 60’s and 70’s, folks. That means if you want to come to Bishop and work on your technical climbing skills, it won’t get any better then Clark’s Canyon and Owens River Gorge for clipping bolts, and Little Egypt for clipping gear.

Want to go out for a little more “expedition” experience? El Potrero Chico, outside of Monterey, Mexico, is where its at. We’d stay at the Posada, which features a full community kitchen, rooms with private baths, and if you don’t want to cook Luis’ Mom has a fantastic restaurant on the premises. Just next door is the best coffee and the rock climbing is less then 15 minutes walk up the road. El Potrero is an incredible formation of limestone, known most famously for its multi-pitch routes. The only caveat emptor: The climbing starts at 5.8, and is dominantly 5.10. You should be ready to follow 5.10b if you really want to make the most out of a week here.
Does that sound like a little much? Then there is someplace just as big but closer than you may think – Red Rocks, Nevada. Located just outside of Las Vegas, this place is equally famous for incredible multi-pitch trad routes – especially those below 5.10. If you are still working on your technique, but want to climb longer routes, then this is the place to go. We can either stay at the group campsite from 24-28 October, or at a single site any other time, or you can stay in a hotel in town and be driven out to the climbing daily – the Strip is less then 30 minutes away!!
But multi-pitch routes aren’t for every one. Maybe you just want to work on your technique in an incredible desert setting, only a few hours drive from Los Angeles. It can only mean Joshua Tree National Park. With over 1000 individual routes to choose from, this is the place to work on your climbing. They say if you can climb the grade in J-Tree, you can climb anywhere. And like Red Rocks, camping or hotels are possible.
But not everyone lives in LA – some of us are lucky enough to live near San Francisco Bay. And for us, we have Lover’s Leap and Donner Summit. Both are great destinations for single to four pitch climbs up to 5.9 in difficulty. Both have camping and hotel options nearby: Lover’s Leap looks down on the historic stage stop of Strawberry and the Strawberry Inn and Restaurant. Donner Summit is only a few mile west of the historic and adventure summit town of Truckee.
So that’s what is on my mind, as I wait for the snow to really fall and skiing to start at my new ski area: Alpine Meadows. Until then, you can count on my heading out and enjoying cool air and warm rock this fall. Interested in joining me? Send me a comment with your email and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

NE Face of Middle Palisade, 14,021 feet / 4271 meters

The NE Face of Middle Palisade is possibly the best 3rd class route in the Sierra Nevada. Ben had an ambitious goal to climb the peak in one day, a little different from SMC’s typical itinerary of 2 or 3 days. We met way-early in the morning, did a quick gear check, and took off.

Ben at 11910 Tarn, the last water.

Ben at 11910 Tarn, the last water.

The long hike up the lower South Fork of Big Pine Creek existed only in the radius of the light from our headlamps. We entered the Willow Lakes basin as the sun came up, and took our first break at Brainerd Lake. In a short time we were above Finger Lake and at the last tarn at 11910 feet elevation.

After the snowfields have melted away from the summer, I like to approach middle Palisade by a cicuitous, but more solid, route. From the tarn we hiked west up slabs, and then south, to reach the north-west corner of the terminal morain on the Middle Palisade glacier. The normal approach follows the obvious drainage to the lowest point, but that’s a sliding scree field when its dry. Instead we enjoyed a stable talus field across to the lateral morain that split the west and east lobes of the glacier and leads directly to the foot of the NE Face.

(L-R)Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak

(L-R)Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak

To avoid a slippery moat to the normal ramp I climbed a lower – and looser – ramp that ended only 20 feet lower in the East Chute (Sorry Ben!). We continued up the East Chute to the NE Pinacle, which marks our entering the North Chute. Here we were able to unrope and criss-cross, zig, zag, and head up the chute following broad ledges and ramps. The North Chute seemed to go on forever. We roped up again at the summit blocks, followed a corkscrew ledge to the south ridge, and then we were at the register!

Ben on the summit of Middle Palisade.

Ben on the summit of Middle Palisade.

Descending can be a bit more nerve-fraying then the ascent, since the exposure is constantly staring back you. So I decided to keep the rope on, and we were able to keep a more direct line down the right side of the chutes, avoiding a lot of possible rockfall hazards. Still, descending only took 30 minutes less time then the ascent had – showing how descending 4th and 3rd class terrain takes almost as much time as ascending does.

Chris at the last anchor on the ramp accessing the East Chute.

Chris at the last anchor on the ramp accessing the East Chute.

We reached the Middle Palisade Glacier with a significant sigh of satisfaction, packed the gear away, and started the descent. We turned up the pace once we reached the trail again at Brainerd Lake, cruising down down down, and broke out the headlamps again just as we reached the lower South Fork again. The headlamps’ light enveloped our world again until we reached the cars.

We had plans to meet in Bishop for beers, but while eating my first chicken fajita at my friends house I fell asleep sitting up. I rallied to finish dinner before I crawled into my sleeping bag and let the day end.

Statistics: NE Face, Middle Palisade (2000’+ ft of 3rd Class), 14012 feet. 14:45 hours car-to-car.

To see all the photos from this trip, look up 20080922 SMC NE Face Middle Palisade on my online photo archive,, or click here.

Cheers! Chris

An evening at the Rockzilla Gym

Afterwords, we went around the corner for beers and mexican food. The cold glasses tingled against my worked tips. My knuckles seemed to squeak and grind as my finger curled around the bottle. My forearms complained as I squeezed the lime, and my biceps joined in as I lifted the glass.

Tomorrow, my shoulders will protest when I reach over for the seat belt, and my lats will argue when I pull the belt to the buckle. And later my back will demand that I get out and move around, because it will be growing stiff from all the sitting from the drive to Alta Peak.

It was worth every Aleve.

Statistics: Rockzilla Gym. V0 x2, V0+ x1, V1 x2, V1+ x1, attempts on V1 and V2 boulder problems, and on 5.10b and 5.10b/c. Fall practice on the lead wall.

banner photo: antarctica / mark allen

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