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. 

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