9-16 April 2017
random trip report
Photo credits: the good ones are by Rich and L.; others by me.
Erica and Noah are in Cleveland for Passover, and I owe Rich K. a visit in Palm Springs. So... road trip! The other parts of triptych are climbing Mt. Baldy and rock climbing in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine.
I drive down I-5 to Claremont and stay in my friend E's back cottage.
I drive to Mt. Baldy and climb it by the Register Ridge trail, the shortest and steepest way.
I start at 11 AM and summit at 2:30. It feels harder than usual; I never find a groove where my pulse, respiration, and lactic acid are all stable. Lots of stopping and going very slow. I didn't sleep well and am weak and a little dizzy, with slight migraine auras. Or maybe I'm just getting old.
There are search & rescue trucks at the bottom. A black helicopter circles the summit, then descends and follows the trail up. I run into a pair of S&R workers on the ridge. A 78-year-old man has been missing since Friday. I chat with them - they were involved in the Michelle Yu search as well. (Note: the man's body was found the next day; he had climbed Baldy 750 times).
At the summit I meet a hard-core hiking couple - John and Jessie - and hook up with them for the descent. Which is good because the summit is covered with snow and I'm not exactly sure of the route.
After breakfast with E I drive to Rich's house in Palm Springs. We eat lunch at a golf course restaurant. We have a piano session, during which Rich explains his Grand Unified Technique, which centers around tactile sensation.
For dinner, Rich cooks a feast of steak and sausage.
Rich and I mostly work. In the late afternoon we go for a short hike on South Lykken Trail. Rich points out that the area is a checkerboard of Indian and non-Indian lands.
After dinner, I tell Rich about my current work (Science United and SETI) and these leads into a broad-ranging conversation that we agree is one of our 3 best of all time (and we've had some good ones). Rich holds forth on government (we're evolved to have political units of 100 or so, and having a leader of 100 million doesn't make sense to us) and on dark matter (there may be a "dark E&M" and "dark life").
We drive E on I-10 and CA 86 to the town of Mecca, and do a wonderful hike in Ladder Canyon. We end up a bit off the beaten track and come on a plateau above the canyon system; then we descend the way we came. Rich's shoes are not ideal.
Rich tells me the saga of his rented house, which features exploding pool pumps, damaged heirlooms, shady repair companies, and a total A-hole landlord. He's looking for a new place.
We eat at a Sichuan restaurant in Indio ("Only in Indio") which, as Rich predicts, is astoundingly good. Get the Crispy Pork Belly.
After dinner, Rich explains fibrations and product spaces with and without twists of various sorts. We watch the Banach-Tarski video.
We drive to the DesertX mirror house; unfortunately the road is closed. We drive through town, which is full of Coachella Music Festival 20-somethings. We visit a wonderful music store specializing in unusual instruments ("continuum keyboard", and a 24-string guitar/bass played by tapping) and music theory/history books.
Then we hang out in a small park behind a cafe, which is a great place to work. Rich entertains me with a birds-eye view of rational points on elliptic curves, and a bit of category theory.
The drive from Palm Springs to Lone Pine is pleasant and uneventful, albeit with a bit of traffic in the pass. I arrive at the airbnb rental (a mobile home) at 9 PM. D, S and L are preparing to cook veggies and tri-tip on a propane grill on the front porch. S has brought some IPAs. Life is good. I enjoy and promote some slightly fermented Soylent.
Apparently the heater is noisy so we leave it off. I freeze half to death but sleep OK in spite.
Sleep in, eggs and toast, PB&J.
We drive to Alabama Hills, to an area called "Meatloaf Cave", so named because a Meatloaf video was filmed there.
We start on Western wall and Hoodgie wall and climb some 5.7 and 5.8s. I have to climb a route twice because I forget to clean the draws. We do Mon Cherie (5.9) and all of us hum the Stevie Wonder tune for the rest of the day.
We eat lunch and go around the corner to Tall Wall and climb Spur (5.7). L and I take a rest. D and S climb Tall T (5.9). An Irish guy is climbing a 5.10 while his Hispanic (?) wife belays, and his kids (3/6?) clamber around, get in fights, and make a ruckus below.
The climbing is fun and not that hard, but the rock has sharp crystals that abrade my fingertips and give me a couple of puncture wounds.
We return home and shower, then go to the grocery store, and then to "Merry Go Round" (Chinese restaurant) for dinner. L has many gluten-related questions about the menu. It's expensive, but the servings are enormous and we have many leftovers. The cook (?) is an old white guy with a T-shirt saying Arthritis Bike Club, Ibuprofen chapter. We greatly enjoy the place.
We search for ice cream and end up settling for a chemo-cone and McSlurry's at MacDonalds.
We go to Jake's Saloon. L and I play pool (her first time?). D and S play ping-pong on a funky table that's not at all flat. The jukebox plays oldies at high volume. There is indeed a Confederate flag, but many others as well.
Some young guys come over and get involved in the ping-pong. One of them beats me 21-14. A-hole. Actually they're both nice guys, from Catalina island.
A group of squat, overweight, and ugly black-clad bikers screams at each other nearby.
Home, and Boggle. L puts on a gaudy display of verbal virtuosity ("doss", "woad", and "sett") and comes within 2 points of me. Close... but not quite.
S demonstrates 2 yoga/contortion tricks: 1) rolling completely over while holding a book on his foot. 2) the waiter trick w/ a book.
Better heat management; I sleep well.
Up at the crack of 10. S has some tape that I use for my right middle fingertip, which has a puncture wound.
We head to Shark's Fin, an iconic rock. There's a 5.7 and a 5.10b next to each other. S leads the 5.7 (he did most of the leading throughout) and sets up the second rope for 10b.
The rock seems to be even sharper and more painful than yesterday. Plus it's more vertical. I'm limited not by strength but by fingertip pain.
I do the 5.7, which has a very hard; I cheat using a nearby boulder. S does the 10b. L and D do the 5.7. We nosh on leftover Chinese food.
We return to the Meatloaf area, and head up to The Loaf. The approach, over and under giant boulders, is difficult, especially while carrying both the floppy IKEA rope bag and my floppy gym bag.
We do Pangborn (5.9), which is too long for a 60m rope so on D's advice we decide to tie 2 ropes together. We tie the ropes together w/ Euro Death Knot.
D ties into one end and leads the climb. When he reaches to top he (and we) realize that the knot will not fit through the draw biners.
S suggests that D belay him from the top. D sets up to do this. All of a sudden we hear "rock!" and .1 seconds later a metal object hits the ground near S. It's D's belay device.
Us: "Do you have another one?"
D (glumly): "No".
S suggests that he lead the route, unclipping the 1st rope as he goes. We untie the ropes and he does this (carrying 2 extra belay devices at L's insistence). They tie the ropes together at the top. Then D rappels down, unclipping as he goes. He's remarkably unfazed. Then S rappels down. At this point we pull the green rope enough to TR on the blue.
Note 1: throughout this entire process, L and I let D and S make the decisions, figuring they're more experienced than we are. In retrospect, we should have thought through the plan for ourselves.
Note 2: in retrospect, another solution would have been:
Anyway. I tie in and climb on TR. I'm about 2/3 of the way up, at an especially tenuous point with toes on tiny ledges and iffy hands. I hear muffled yells from below, telling me to "wait there for a moment" while they switch the belay. The descending knot has reached L's belay, and D needs to take over above the knot. There's a long delay because they haven't thought through how to do this.
It's not made clear to me whether I'm still on belay. So I'm clinging desperately to slivers of rock, 150' off the ground, my leg and arm muscles gradually giving out. The force of gravity has not, as in my dreams, magically disappeared.
After what seems like an eternity, I'm back on belay and continue to the top. I descend, and L does the route. This time, she ties in to the middle of the rope so that the knot doesn't pass through the belay.
I pull the rope. The blue end (D's rope) hurtles down, and the end of it falls into a crevice in the rock. I try to pull it out. It sticks. Oh shit.
The sticking point can be reached only by descending into a deep hole barely larger than a human body. Fortunately - once again - we have S. He contorts, Yogi-style, down into the void. L conjures images of "127 Hours" and becomes slightly hysterical. D quietly suggests that we could cut the last few meters of rope off, rather than S's arm. S will have none of this. Finally, he locates the tangle and frees the rope.
By this point it's 4:30 and D/S wanted to be on the road at 4, so we hustle home, S takes a shower, and we say our farewells. They plan to go north on 395 in spite of iffy weather forecast.
L and I head back up to Alabama Hills and do the .6 mile "Mobius Arch Loop Hike". The desert scenery and scenery (clouds, mountains) are stunning. At the arch, a photographer is setting up in prepartion for the Golden Hour. We get him to take our pic.