Saturday, February 10, 2018

Improvising the Eno HouseFly as a 1-person ground shelter

(Oh, hi, hello, yes, it's been a while. I am more active on Instagram these days, but I still write, and I've released a new chapbook called 'why don't we know each other'--it's available now.)

My first trips as an outdoor educator involved sharing shelters with my co-instructors, people with whom I spent several days getting to know before sharing such close quarters for any period of time. When I was hired to work with Dunn School, it was the first time I found myself in need of a 1-person shelter, as our orientation was short and I would be the primary wilderness instructor on the trip.

After trying out the REI Quarterdome 1 on the first trip, I returned the tent due to its weight, but moreso due to the expense. I wanted something simple, light, and not wildly expensive. Those who have the funds can acquire a sub-1-pound shelter made of cuben fiber for $300-500. Considering the wear I tend to put on my gear and my unpredictable work schedule, I couldn't stomach the expense.

The compromise I landed on was to use an Eno HouseFly Rain Tarp as a ground shelter. At 27 ounces without accounting for ground stakes, it's not the lightest solution, but since I was able to purchase one on sale for less than $100, it was a good compromise.

The tarp comes with quite a bit of cord and I've been able to shed a bit of weight by eliminating the plastic tensioners and connectors tying the lines directly to the straps on the tarp. 10 lines are included (6 for structure and 4 for the doors), and I tend to only carry 6 of the lines.
I set the tarp up with my trekking poles to create an A-frame shelter. I stake the corners directly into the ground for warmth and privacy, and create tension in the ridgeline using a truckers hitch from the trekking poles.
As you can see, there's no floor to this tent, so I have to bring my own. The nice thing about not having a floor is that I can pull my pack into the shelter without worry about dirtying the floor or crowding a vestibule. I sliced open a plastic contractor's trash bag for my floor, on which I place my sleeping pad. I am on the lookout for some discarded Tyvek for the next series of trips, as a lighter alternative.
These photos are from the test run of this set-up at Dunn School before the actual 4-day trip-- always good to practice beforehand! After first setting up the trekking poles handles down and tips through the loop, I decided to try them out handle-up. I like the way the doors sit this way better, though I worry about the force on the material.

What I learned during the trip is that since I am 4'11, I can comfortably sleep under the tarp with a trekking pole on only one end, and the other end staked down. I haven't yet had the pleasure of setting this up using trees. I imagine a taller person may want to create more headroom by staking out the corners with cord and having their trekking poles adjusted to be taller. There would be more airflow that way as well.

For those who worry about insects, well, I did find a scorpion underneath my ground tarp while camping in Big Sur that year, but we managed to stay well away from each other. The HouseFly has a few flaps of material that create a sort of barrier between the walls and the ground, but there are those doors. I'm somewhat concerned about mosquitos in my coming work season, but not quite enough to switch to a $200+ set up. Okay, to be honest, I'd probably worry less about the expense for a tent if I were not based in a place as expensive as the Bay Area. We'll see how long the streak can last.

Funnily, the nights that I've slept in my hammock so far have not required a tarp at all, so I've only ever set up this hammock shelter on the ground. There may be cheaper, lighter, and bug-netted options out there if I keep a better eye out for sales, but I've become attached to my improvised solution. And, why carry both trekking poles and tent poles?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

All Who Dare Los Angeles Premiere // Free Screening

My trip to the Lost Creek Wilderness with Eagle Rock School students last year is captured in this one-hour documentary:
All Who Dare follows nine incoming Eagle Rock students who leave behind their families, friends, and familiar environments as they surpass their limits in the Lost Creek Wilderness of Colorado. 
Guided by experienced wilderness educators, the students are challenged physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially during this once-in-a-lifetime journey of personal growth. They quickly learn that there are no excuses in the wilderness, and that completing the trip is only the first step in taking responsibility for their lives. 
All Who Dare – also the school’s motto – provides a compelling look at the unconventional approach of a nationally acclaimed innovative high school that provides hope for young people who are striving to turn their lives around.
The film is showing in Burbank on November 2nd. I wish that I could be there for the LA premiere, but I'm firing a soda kiln on November 1st, and have to stick around until the 6th to unpack and clean the kiln.

You can register for the free screening at AMC 16 Burbank here:

At the Stanley Hotel with Jack (L) & Jordan (R)
I drove from Oakland to Estes Park last month in order to attend the premiere, and sat on the post-film panel. It was so wonderful to be among the students, faculty, and staff of the ERS community, and to be reunited with my awesome co-instructors on the trip, Jack and Jordan.

It's been over a year since I worked for ERS due to various scheduling conflicts, but I hope that changes in the coming seasons. Over the last three years, I've grown more and more comfortable working with young people, ever more in awe of what they understand, what they are capable of when they are supported, and how much we can learn from one another when given the time and space abundant in extended wilderness expeditions.

(Along the way to Colorado, I lost my necklace-- keep an eye out, world, it could be anywhere by now. It added a bittersweet tinge to the journey. With all that has happened in the last few weeks, to individuals in my life as well as to entire communities around the world, I'm keeping perspective on the loss as best I can. And, I'm still posting on Craigslist and messaging pawn shops around the US. Because why not.)

Monday, July 31, 2017

Angel's Fright on Tahquitz Rock

Oops, it's the end of July. Here is another installment in A june that dreams were made of.

I'd known of the Tahquitz since early in my climbing career when I still lived in Los Angeles, but as a beginning climber with only sport climbing gear and experience, I was intimidated by this classic granite multipitch crag. After having led on gear in Red Rocks, Joshua Tree, Indian Creek, Donner Pass, and even at Owens River Gorge, it felt silly that I had not yet climbed at this "local" crag.

I met Leslie of Dynamite Starfish in Bishop during the Women's Climbing Festival in 2016. In a recent interview, Leslie reminded me that we met for the first time when I walked up alone and crashed her and her friends' bouldering session in the Buttermilks.

We met again at the WCF in Bishop this year (though I didn't have a ticket because my clicking fingers weren't fast enough), and further bonded over Los Angeles, making stuff, and the desire to trad climb. I knew that I would be in Los Angeles for writing workshops, so I contacted Leslie about climbing together in Tahquitz.

We met for a session at Hollywood Boulders, our only indoor-climbing experience together, and she told me she was interested in Angel's Fright, a 400-foot route on the West Face. Not too hard, not too long, good belay ledges. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

While I'm wary of making long drives for day trips, and especially ones with what seem like small objectives in the age of 3,000-foot long free solos, it's all a matter of scale.

In the days before the climb, the carbon-footprint conscious (also: anxious) part of me wondered whether it was silly to drive from Garden Grove to Riverside and then on to the San Jacinto Mountains for just a day trip. Leslie assured me that "daytrips to Tahquitz happen!" And in fact, that is how most climbers do it. So, on a Thursday morning, I woke at 5:30am, made coffee, and got myself on the road.

Getting to the base of Tahquitz climbs requires a 45-minute uphill hike, known in climbing terms as an "approach." I felt prepared to haul our rack and food and water up the hill after my recent years working as a backpacking instructor, but I tend toward the slow-and-steady. Thankfully, Leslie did not rush us.

A party of three got there before we did and so there was a bit of waiting as they got on their way. Leslie linked the first two pitches, which my 70-meter rope did not quite give comfortably. I had to simul-climb about 15 feet off the ground in order to get her to the belay ledge. Others had said that a 70-meter rope could make it; perhaps I just wasn't heavy enough to create the necessary rope stretch?
Racking up at the top of the second pitch. Taken by Leslie.
I had a difficult time sorting out the next pitch; I found myself crawling through spiky, gnarled trees unnecessarily and having to backtrack to get back on-route. Route-reading is one of the main parts of multi-pitch climbing that intimidate me, much more than the exposure or height. I found a shadier belay just 50 feet or so from where I began, so Leslie encouraged me to lead the final section, which included a slabby finger crack that I had a great time on.

It was a long day, with a lot more hiking than climbing, but so things go when starting out with a new skillset (and maybe also when you're in your 30s while doing so).
Summit haikus. Always check out the summit register!
It was amazing to go climbing with someone with whom I had so many shared values and relatable life experiences. I felt particularly grateful for our day together because I had just had a night of feeling, once again, great sadness and frustration from the divide between me and my immigrant parents, between what they wish for me and what I wish for myself.

I was close to canceling on Leslie, but then-- what would the day have held? Just more wallowing in negativity, guilt, frustration. Might as well make the drive, hike in the heat, climb with the sun's glare reflecting off the bright granite, stand on a summit, spend time among the pine trees. Most importantly, if I had stayed home, I would have missed some incredible conversations about all the things.

I drove back to my parents' house incredibly grateful for the experience. Kind of euphoric, actually. Connection is the best drug.


Since that day, I've made good on my promise to myself to get out and climb, with recent bouldering trips to Mt. Tamalpais, Castle Peak, and Tuolumne. Looking forward to the weather cooling down and to getting on ropes again.