Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Passing Through Chinese Camp

As I drove along S.R. 120 toward Owens River Gorge the first time, signs that said "Chinese Camp" caught my eye, but I didn't have time to stop. On the way back, I pulled in for a few minutes to poke around and snap a few pictures. I didn't see many people around, and after reading the Wikipedia article, I understood why: the 2010 Census put the population at 126. 

It's hard to believe that nearly 5,000 people lived in this place during the gold rush. 

The sign states that "the first Chinese Tong War in state fought near here between Sam Yap and Yan Woo tongs." More history can be found on Wikipedia (of course).

The formation of tongs:
After settling in San Francisco and other California cities, Chinese workers faced hostility from their American peers who felt threatened by the Chinese who worked for lower wages. As labor unions and angered workers became more aggressive, many Chinese felt pressure to leave and go east, where they heard life would be less dangerous.[4] As a result many Chinese immigrants moved to cities such as New York and Boston where today there are large enough populations to build communities known as "Chinatowns".[5] Many Chinese soon organized voluntary associations for support and protection.

The Tong War of 1856 Tensions between the Tuolumne County Sam Yap Company and the Calaveras County Yan Wo Company, both headquartered near Chinese Camp erupted in violence. In the Columbia Gazette of October 1856 a comment directed toward the Yan Wo by the Sam Yap stated “There are a great many now existing in the world who ought to be exterminated.” An estimated 2500 men fought in the battle that followed. Most were armed in traditional fashion, carrying long pikes, butcher’s knives, and tridents. The Sam Yap Company had purchased 150 muskets and bayonets in San Francisco in preparation for the confrontation and after a hundred rounds or so The Yan Wo clan were forced to retreat. Surprisingly there were only 4 fatalities were recorded.
According to the Census, most of the 126 people in Chinese Camp identify as White, with a tiny percentage identified as "Other Races." I wonder how long it took for the population to dwindle so far. Probably didn't take too long after the gold ran out. 

It felt kind of spooky there. Tiny homes. The only people I saw were a couple of men drinking in the bar & convenience store along the main road.
A few trees and a lot of yellow grasses. Didn't seem too hospitable to me. Rocky earth. Not much water.
Beautiful skies on the way home.
I wonder whether Los Angeles might be like this one day. Quiet. Empty. I have no idea what living in a place like this would be like. That's probably why I'm so curious about it. I went from suburb to city. Maybe it's only natural that I'm wondering about the country.

The election is in 6 days. I need to do more homework.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

DIY Ink Bottle Oil Lamp

Last spring, I discovered the joy of DIY oil lamps. Here's how I turn an India ink bottle into an oil lamp. 
The materials:
  • India ink bottle
  • 2-inch strip of aluminum foil
  • cotton strip (I used the hem from an old A-Shirt)
  • sharp knife
  • oil (not pictured)
I've taken a shining to writing with orange ink lately. I didn't bother to clean the bottle out fully, mostly because I didn't want to expend the water doing it (I've become increasingly conscious about water use). I'm not sure whether there are any health concerns with burning India ink, but I'm not too worried.

1. I cut the pipette away, trying to make it as short as possible. 

If I'd had a sharper knife and the motivation, I would have tried to shave away more of the pipette above the cap line. The shorter it is, the less it will push your wick back down into the bottle.
2. I crumple the aluminum foil around the end of the cotton strip, creating a stopper so that the wick will stay upright.
3. Tuck the wick into the bottle.
4. Check to make sure the stopper works properly before getting things all oily.
5. Fill the bottle most of the way with oil of your choice. 

I'm told olive oil has the least oily scent, but I'd use whatever oil is either plentiful, cheap, or about to go rancid. You could even use bacon grease, if you're into that sort of thing (I am). 
6. Tuck stopper and wick in place.
7. The lamp is ready! Light it up! 

Before lighting, I screwed the cap back on and turned the bottle upside down for a few seconds to allow the wick to absorb more oil. 
The cap can also be a snuffer, but because it's plastic, the bottle should be allowed to cool after the flame is put out so that the cap doesn't melt and become less leak-proof.
And there you have it. A 5-10 minute, very practical DIY project. Light, no batteries required. And it fits in your pocket. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

From Car-Free to Car-Dweller

Four years ago, I celebrated becoming car-free in Los Angeles. Now, I'm writing from the Bay Area various places and am very, very attached to my car. When I was living in Downtown LA and spending most of my time there, it was easy to ditch the car and use public transit and bicycles. I still use public transit and my bicycle, when I can. But I've found that I really like camping out of my car on BLM land. And it's lovely being able to wake up to scenes like this after pulling over to sleep among eighteen-wheelers:
Vista Point, Highway 101, Santa Barbara.
I've driven between Los Angeles, Bishop, and the Bay Area many times over the last few months. It's hard for me to think about how much gas I've consumed in such a short period of time. Hundreds of gallons, I'm sure, though I get good mileage and drive conservatively. My current lifestyle includes a lot of driving, which I once tried so hard to get away from, and now, I don't really see myself getting away from it any time soon. It's harder to interact with the outdoors, be car-free, and still be very mobile. But it's possible.

If I were planning to live in one place for a long time, and commute to only a few specific places on a regular basis, it would be easier to imagine working out a way to avoid using a car for outdoors excursions. The truth is that right now, I'm not so willing to try that hard. I'm still hauling around quite a few belongings, I like being able to tuck into my home like a turtle, and I like the feeling of independence I get hurtling down highways between cities, where it can seem so desolate.
Sagebrush Campsite, Owens River Gorge, Eastern Sierra.

For now, the best course I see is in staying in places for longer stretches of time than the weeklong trips I've been taking. Where those places might be, and how far I'll have to drive to get there, are all up in the air. A few days ago I plotted out a dozen different climbing areas to visit around the western US. I've met quite a few people traveling around for a month or more (or indefinitely) for climbing. That doesn't feel like long enough, not at all. I want to take more time than that. And I want to make it sustainable for that time, both financially and environmentally, as much as possible. It's hard to imagine how that is going to work. But I'm trying.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Climbing at Owens River Gorge - Days 5 & 6

I lied. I'm not sitting at the Looney Bean. I'm at Black Sheep Espresso Bar, sipping on the cup-of-the-day, charging my phone. While I haven't had as much luck with finding sport climbing partners as I'd like, there's plenty of bouldering here, so it's highly unlikely that I won't be able to climb something on any given day. Fantastic.

5-6 October 2012

The last two days were all about climbing, climbing, climbing.

On the 5th day, I finally found my sweet spot with arranging my gear for the approach. Carrying the water bottles on the inside of the bag instead of in the side pockets centered the weight better, and instead of cramming the rope into the pack, I slung the rope bag strap over my shoulder and cradled it something like a baby. This made the approach easier. The approach was even better on the last day of climbing, when I decided to start tossing the rope a few feet ahead of me as a I scrambled down the gully. Hooray for durable rope bags!
At the bottom of the Central Gorge approach.
As my focus on climbing increased, I took fewer and fewer photos. I regret not taking more photos of Antoine, Ramsel, and Trevor on their climbs-- I was always either climbing myself, belaying, or eating.  Or watching, slackjawed, as they climbed very hard things. Trevor and Antoine both made an effort to take photos during my milestone climbs, which, as the beginner-est of the group, I had a couple of. I didn't think of it, but it's so nice to be able to look back at those moments now. I owe them.

Here I am on Orange Peel (5.10c), the hardest grade I've tried to redpoint so far. 
Love those high first bolts.
I fell on my first attempt, and Antoine said, "You must give it a second go." So I did. Success! I climbed it without falling.
Trevor told me to pose. "No Posing" rule broken.
I was elated. Other things were climbed that day, but it's all a blur now. Fun was had. Beer was drunk. We also had friends pull up late that night and join us at camp. 

On Day 6, I kept in mind the "Last Day, Best Day" motto, and after climbing the beautiful Dr. Evil (5.10a) and tricky Tall Dollar (5.10b), I set my sights on trying something beyond my ability and experience: The O.R.G. asm (5.11a) Because it was the last day, so why not?

I think I fell sometime near this moment.
Picked myself up and moved through the hard part.
I fell once on the first attempt. Only once! I couldn't believe it when I got back down to the ground. The thought was already planted in my head without Antoine saying a thing: I'd give it a second go. I ate some chocolate, drank some water, stretched my fingers, massaged my arms, and returned for another attempt. 

And it happened. I climbed it without falling, though I got nervous near the top, because I kept thinking about how upsetting it would be to fall at that point. And I made it. 

It was only one route, and I know that there are "easier" routes that will be difficult for me, but I feel different. Like I get it now, what it means to surpass what you think your limits are. What can happen if you try to. I'm thinking more now about what I think is possible for myself, not just in climbing. 
End-of-trip fingertips, clean & bruised.

They were dirty before they became my camp shoes.
The next morning, I took in my last sunrise, stopped for an hour or so in Bishop, and headed back west. Head full of ponderings on what's possible. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rest Day, Owens River Gorge - Day Four

4 October 2012

It was time to give our tendons, muscles, and skin a chance to recover after two and half days of climbing. Also, we had to go into town to get water and a few supplies (beer). 
Another beautiful morning.
While camping in the pinyons, with mountains and trees all around, it feels beautifully remote. But drive about thirty minutes south, and creature comforts are all available in town, including a more-than-decent cup of coffee, and gambling (or so I hear).
Looney Bean Coffee, on Main St.
After a lazy morning at the coffee shop and a run to the grocery store, we stopped at The Pit campground to pump some water. Not quite as tasty as the Hetch Hetchy water you get from the tap in San Francisco, but cool and refreshing just the same.
I'd been eyeing big, portable water storage containers at REI for a while, but I think I'll stick with re-using gallon jugs because they're much easier to handle, though not as durable. Once their water containment life is done, though, they can become sub-irrigated planters! Now I just need to think some more on how I'll rig a portable garden on/in my little car. Any car-gardening out there?

After re-upping on water, we decided to explore some of the other crags nearby. Ramsel was feeling the urge to do some crack climbing, which isn't as tough on the hands, and I was a more-than-willing second. We found ourselves at Pine Creek Canyon, where vertical dance company Project Bandaloop was occupying part of the crag with one of their classes. You must click the link and see for yourself. You must.

Since the classic Pratt's Crack (5.9) was occupied by Bandaloop, Ramsel set his sights on Sheila (5.10a). It was his first trad lead of the grade. I wish I hadn't forgotten my camera in the car. Since the climb required two ropes to rappel back down, I had to trail a rope behind me, attached to my harness. I also had to clip the trailing rope into some gear for directionals since Antoine planned on climbing up after me. That was a first for me; I really felt the weight of the rope during some of the tougher sections of the climb near the top. Thankfully I was able to make it up. We had some rope management fun at the top as I belayed Antoine up. Poor Ramsel had to sit up there through gusty winds the entire time, and flaked the rope over his shoulders for warmth. After Antoine powered through the climb, we all abseiled down, explored Pine Creek a bit, and returned to camp. A rest day well-spent, I say.

*The Eastern Sierra has so much climbing, it's over-whelming. I'm not even finished writing this trip report yet, and I'm already about to head back to the area. My next post will probably be written at The Looney Bean. Wish me luck finding climbing partners.

Climbing at Owens River Gorge - Day Three

3 October 2012

On the third morning, I finally began to hit my car-camping stride. I started back on writing each morning, though I reduced my output from three pages to one page. Must spend less time navel-gazing when there's breakfast to cook and gear to pack and walls to climb.
Dirty windows.
I didn't want to have to deal with cleaning my french press, so I planned to drink yerba mate instead of my usual coffee each day. I did, however, make an extra-large serving of coffee with condensed milk (cut with regular milk) for early Monday morning drive, which I nursed for a couple of mornings' worth of writing.

While I look with interest at wagons, vans, hatchbacks, and trucks with shells (I notice them a lot more nowadays), I'm pretty happy with my little car. I make it work.
Writing desk.
Headlamps are wonderful.
That day, we headed down to Central Gorge, which has a longer, somewhat sketchier approach than Upper Gorge, but it was definitely worth it. We added a few minutes to our approach because I worried that my car (converted back into a passenger vehicle) would not be able to make it through this hole-y zone on the way to the parking area:
Down might be okay. Up, not so much.
Obeyed all rules but the last.

Down the gully.
Well-kempt squat toilet.
Stinging nettle looks a little like mint.

Nettle likes being near water.
Owens River.
We started out at Great Wall of China, where I warmed up on Enter the Dragon (5.8), China Doll (5.8), and Child of Light (5.9). Antoine, who is a 5.12 climber, remarked that the 5.8 was too easy for me. I rejoined that I climb better when I warm up well, which is true-- but his comment added to the already-brewing feeling that I wouldn't make the most of the trip if I didn't challenge myself further. 

Antoine had put up Tsing Tao (5.10b). I hadn't planned on trying it, but for lack of a 5.10a nearby, I decided to just go for it. I surprised myself by flashing it. It was the hardest climb I'd tried to lead during the trip so far. Then, we made our shade-following migration to the Pub Wall.  There, I took my first lead-fall on Abitarot (5.10a). That was a good reminder that 1) ratings are more guidelines than rules, and 2) falling is okay. After splashing around in the water, I lead Abitafun (5.9) and finished by top-roping Hardly Wallbanger (5.10c). 

And, then, Antoine top-roped Abitafun barefoot and chalkless.
The next day would be a rest day. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Climbing at Owens River Gorge - Day Two

2 October 2012

Though I first opened my eyes around sunrise on Tuesday morning, I turned over and slept more. When I awoke, Ramsel, Antoine, and Monkey were already awake. Monkey scampered up to my car door and I opened it, still tucked into my sleeping bag. I felt immediately happy just being outdoors.

I apologized to the boys for sleeping in, and they said they figured I needed it. It must have been eight thirty already, which to me is late by camping standards. Which means I slept around 12 hours, because they told me they got back from Bishop at around 8:30PM and I was already asleep. There's something kind of wonderful about that.

After  breakfast, we set off for another go at Upper Gorge. While ORG is known as a sport climbing paradise, there are lots and lots of opportunities to plug traditional protection, and Ramsel had just that in mind for his day.
Racking up.
We started at the Dihedrals, where there would be morning shade and cracks to climb. I warmed up on Gangsta Lean (5.8), a long, fun route. 
I got sweaty between the first and second bolt.
The route traverses left. Love the long routes at ORG.
While Antoine went off with our new friend Trevor for his warm up,  Delicate Mechanism (5.10b), Ramsel showed me how to make tape gloves for my first crack climb.
My first tape gloves.
He lead Not Proud Enough To Name (5.8) and Pumping the Slots (5.9). I found that I really enjoy cramming my hands and feet into cracks and using torque to make upward progress. After the two crack climbs, Ramsel flashed Delicate Mechanism. I top-roped the route to clean it and had a tough time negotiating the slab and removing the quickdraw under the roof. I was much more interested in crack climbing, so I cleaned Trevor's lead of Life During Wartime (5.10a). I had a lot of fun pulling nuts and cams out of the wall while finding good hand and foot jams.
Riparian vegetation. 
I wrote in my notebook that I lead a 5.10a sport climb that day. I had to rack my brain to remember that I climbed something Antoine put up-- a route with a bouldery start that wasn't in the latest guidebook and isn't on Mountain Project. It's a southwest-facing climb around the corner from Delicate Mechanism and to the left of Mildew Encrusted Shower Stall.  Perhaps I blocked it out because I fell at the start probably half a dozen times, even when I stood on a rock for assitance. I finally traversed in from the left because I just wanted to hurry up and climb it because I said I'd clean it. I was frustrated with it and then annoyed with myself for feeling frustrated. The rest of the route went fine, thankfully, but my sport climbing confidence was shaken.

I didn't take many photos that day, but I did get one of this cute caterpillar:
There were a few of these funny, fuzzy little things crawling up the vertical face of the wall, and every so often I'd see one float down to the ground, lay stunned for a second, then start crawling right back toward the face again.

A few months prior, I had been quite comfortable trying 5.10a/b/c routes. Now I found I was letting myself be intimidated by my unfamiliarity with the area. I was spending more time afraid that I had regressed than seeing how much I might improve. Why not challenge myself at least a little more? Be more like the caterpillars. Besides, unlike them, I had the advantage of a rope and a belayer if I fell.

The climbing day was done after Ramsel and Antoine fought their way up Mildew Encrusted Shower Stall (5.10c). While I had enjoyed my introduction to crack climbing, I didn't feel ready to tackle an overhanging offwidth crack like that.

We hiked back up and had a mellow night around the fire. As per usual, one beer was enough for me. I slept early and heavily that night.

*Just realized the Glossary of climbing terms on Wikipedia may be helpful.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Climbing at Owens River Gorge - Day One

Last Monday, I left for my first longer-than-a-weekend climbing trip: I planned to spend October 1-5 at Owens River Gorge, a sport climber's paradise tucked between the Sierra Nevada and White Mountains
Thar she blows. So much climbing in the area!
1 October 2012

I left Daly City at around 4 AM to pick up Monkey the crag pup. The trip organizer, Ramsel, wanted to spend some time in Yosemite before heading over to ORG, and since dogs are not allowed in the Park, he had to leave his pup with a friend. I agreed to pick up Monkey and reunite him with Ramsel in exchange for half a tank of gas. I picked Monkey up from Ramsel's bleary-eyed friend at 4:30AM. He hopped in the car enthusiastically. We stopped for gas and to let Monkey do some business about an hour later somewhere along 580, in either Dublin or Pleasanton. He was great company.
Those eyes.
Dawn as I entered Stanislaus National Forest.
I met Ramsel and Antoine at Crane Flat Gas Station at 8:15AM, and we continued together east on Tioga Road (aka, S.R. 120). We stopped at Olmsted Point, one of the many viewpoints of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.
Olmsted Point.
Worth taking the .2 mile "hike" from the road to see this.
The drive to Highway 395 was beautiful. Antoine was keen to stop at the Whoa Nellie Deli near Lee Vining for breakfast and coffee. While he chowed down on a huge everything-omelet, I enjoyed my own little snack:
Contact lens cases have many uses.
So proud of my perfectly hard-cooked egg, though the picture's blurry.
After snacktime, it was off to the Gorge and our first day of climbing. The drive along 395 past Mono Basin was beautiful, with mountains on each side and clear blue skies. We turned off at Paradise/ Swall Meadows and drove onto Los Angeles land--the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power owns the land the Owens River Gorge is on. A huge aqueduct runs along the Gorge, taking water from the Owens Valley to LA. (There's a long history between Inyo County and Los Angeles about land and water rights.)

We wound our way up well-maintained roads to the Upper Gorge climbing area. While the directions I had were good, and I had a map, it's always nice to follow someone when I'm driving to a new climbing area, especially one that's a bit remote (read: has poor coverage by T-Mobile).

There's something about that first glance at a highly-concentrated climbing area. "Kid in a candy store," "overwhelmed," and "awe" come to mind. I felt this way when I first saw New Jack City last year, and ORG has two or three times as many routes. And here, there's water.
Arrival at Owens River Gorge, Upper Gorge area.
Volcanic Tableland.
Fantastic basalt formations. This is Gotham City.
The fun begins with the 2nd/3rd class approach to Upper Gorge.
Since migrating to the Bay Area, I haven't done any sport climbing. I eased in by leading Crotalulsley Challenged (5.6) and Step Right Up (5.8) and top-roping Carnubiator (5.10a).
Took a few tries to figure out my footwork for this section of Carnubiator.
We had a relatively short first day in Upper Gorge and went to find ourselves a campsite in the Pinyons Campground. Couldn't have left soon enough for Monkey.
Made himself comfortable at the sandy base of the wall.
I was so exhausted hiking back up to the parking area that I feared the weight of my gear would tip me over and send me tumbling back down the gully. I also made the mistake of using a heavy 65 liter pack, thinking that I'd need the hip support on a long hike. The weight and girth of the pack itself actually made things worse. I made a mental note to switch back to cramming everything into my 34-liter day pack for the next day despite the lack of a hip belt.

The road to the campground was a bit rocky at some points, but my little car managed to negotiate it all quite well. I planned to sleep in my car-- the backseat folds down, and since I'm pretty compact myself, there's exactly enough room for me to stretch my legs into the trunk and lay with a view through my rear window. I parked so that this was more or less what I saw upon waking each morning:
My "bedroom" window.
After Ramsel and Antoine set up their tents, they headed into Bishop to pick up vital supplies (water... and beer). I could not imagine spending any more time sitting in a moving vehicle, so I stayed at the campsite to make dinner and relax from the long day.

For cooking, I used a butane stove like the one A'misa mentions on her blog. My family uses these often for Khmer-style hot-pot. (I hope to make a DIY rocket stove for cooking on my next trip, since dry twigs were so plentiful.) I had to build a small fire to keep the flies away during my dinner. My very, very satisfying dinner:
So glad Di introduced me to these noodles on that long-ago Joshua Tree trip.
I have never before poached an egg in my noodles as perfectly as this, and it may never happen again:
Ohhh, yes.
It was quiet, not very windy, and I was alone, except for Monkey, who retired to Ramsel's tent soon after it became clear I wasn't sharing my meal with him.
Sunset colors.
I stayed up until just after the moonrise. The moon was so bright, it startled me. It cast long shadows. I hardly needed my headlamp.
My camera couldn't catch the gorgeous moonrise, unfortunately.
I've thought about spending a week or two in solitude, probably on BLM land, probably near a climbing area, and I got a small taste of what it might be like that night. While I wasn't scared, I also wasn't entirely at ease. There probably was no one within a one- or two- mile vicinity, and I had no phone service at all. That kind of solitude is rare and unfamiliar. I wondered how I'd feel if I didn't have two campmates returning soon. I went to sleep thinking about this and hoping to be refreshed for the a full day of climbing.