Trip ReportWeak Sauce in Joshua Tree ( A TRIP REPORT )
"Thats ok man, that's why we call this trip Winter Mayhem. We're gonna totally hit a window of bluebird and corn......we're golden. See you Thursday after work."
Its four O'clock on Tuesday before the annual Project Winter Mayhem trip. I throw up a post on The Taco...Headin' to the Mammoth Crest High County This Weekend. We wanted to ski the high bowls around the crest, climb Crystal Crag, and flex our alpine skillz in winter style. "YER GUNNA DIE!!!!" is the most popular response. True enough, The Sierra's are getting pounded with a late series of wet, cold systems that just won't give up. There is no corn to be had. There is not to be any rock climbing at 11,000 feet. The only thing that awaits us in the Sierra backcountry is nasty white death.
Two hours later.....
A text crawls across the screen of my phone. It's from Shep.
71 IN JOSHUA TREE THIS WEEKEND.
I reply quickly....
SHUT YOUR FACE.
You see, this is Project WINTER Mayhem. Three days dedicated to pitting our daring strength and cunning against the savage wind, ice and wetness of Jack Frost in the alpine crucible. The goal: Climb and ski and skin and epic and battle our way up a proud winter summit. We live for this stuff. We read lots of Twight and Bonnington. We hang on every thread of The Vertical Carnival Dispatches. We quote Extreme Alpinism. I have a T-Shirt from Gym Jones. I have never been to Gym Jones. I only made it 16 days of P-90x but in my minds eye I am a hard, hard man. My black Gym Jones T-shirt says "There is a fine line between salvation and drinking poison in the desert." It is the motto of my life. I have no idea what it means. We will not go to sunny Joshua Tree and car camp and eat steaks and get fat and sleep in and climb moderate cracks that lead to silly little "summits" on the top of pebble piles. I have never been to Joshua Tree. I'll go there when I'm old and weak and thin and can combine it with a golfing weekend in Palm Springs. We will not go to South. We got much stronger sauce than that.
THURSDAY NIGHT: 9PM HWY 99 SOUTH TOWARD TWENTYNINE PALMS, CA
THURSDAY NIGHT: 10PM THE HARDMEN STOP FOR FUEL
THURSDAY NIGHT: 1:35 AM I THINK WE MISSED A LEFT TURN IN MOJAVE
We roll into the very last campsite in Ryan campground only to find out that we left the keys to the THULE box with my wife in Fresno. Anybody here ever try to pick a THULE lock. It aint easy. It has a magical system of sliding bars an holes that belong in a Houdini act. Shep makes it happen with his trust Swiss Army Knife....gettin' all MacGyver on it!
The stars sing us to sleep while the wind hums a soothing lullaby through the flapping of the tent walls. "Welcome" it whispers......."Welcome to the Desert."
The next morning, we are startled by the vastness of the desert. We are gonna tear this place apart. We will crush these pithy stones with our fists. We will stand tall among its squatty routes. We will walk with puffed chests in the footsteps of the Stonemasters . Winter Mayhem awaits!
FRIDAY, 9AM: WE CANNOT GET OUT OF OUR LAWN-CHAIRS
The dounut coma subsides and we resign to gettin out climb on. J TRIZZEE here we come. Hide the women and children cause the Hardmen are here to pillage your goods!
MIKE'S BOOKS 5.6
I whimper and shake and yell "you got me!" four times as I cross the opening unprotected traverse. I back off the second pitch, thinking we must be off route, making Shep lead the thuggy slot. I pant and quiver and follow the pitch in quite possibly the sketchiest style in history. A free soloist passes us as we rap off the summit. Weak Sauce. Weak....Sauce. This is Nate's first climbing trip. He is just a kid. He's a bona fide, bad to the bone tele skier with a new found thirst for alpine action. He knows two knots and pretty much knows how to rappel. He has crossed the Sierras in Winter via a tough route, but has very little rock climbing under his belt. He thinks Shep and I are gods. I fully intend to maintain that image, but its getting hard.
He does great. But we don't let him come to the summit cause...."That second pitch is like 5.10 man."
Once on the ground, we toprope the .10b offwidth to the right, Shep cruises it, I leave some elbow skin 19 feet up and quicly declare the route lame. I lower off, defeated but talkin' smack. "That route is ghey. I'm not even gonna waste my time. What a dumb route. Toproping is for lightweights anyway."
Here I am stylin the transition into the right slanting crack.
I sink lower in my lazy chair, the sun is beginning to set when I spot a glimmer of action over by the gear stash. Shep is putting on his harness!
ME: "What are you dong man?"
SHEP: "Uh...we're climbing in fifteen minutes dude....we didn't come here to eat hummus and pita chips all day."
ME: "no way man...I'm stuck in this chair...I still have a pump in my right forearm....I just opened a Sierra Nevada.....my feet hurt....Nate is out of Chalk....We better put the fly on the tent.....I have to update Facebook..."
SHEP: "you have five minutes to get your gear."
ME: "Aw man....you're lame....and bossy."
We stroll a full 100yards over for a sunset climb of "The Eye 5.3" on the Cyclops.
ME: "Gimme the rope Shep."
SHEP:"No way man....we don't have time for you to back off this thing then have me lead it again for you. Maybe Nate wants to lead."
ME: "Don't make me fight you in front of the kid. I'm about to get sum 5.3 and you ain't stoppin me."
SHEP: "ok, I kid you not if you stop long to place pro I will physically pull you down. Now Go!"
I belay it the Eye itself. The desert spreads out west like a well set tablecloth, a feast for the eyes.
Nate and Adam come up, giving me props for a steep lead. I let them adorn me with compliments. I burp up some chips and salsa. It stings a bit, but all is well again in climberville.
That is ACTUALLY light from Heaven shining on those steaks.
We don't want to climb around people, so we head off into the desert. We hear Wonderland is cool. Its windy but warm and the day is our oyster. Its a mile or so out there and it feels good to go get lost.
We quickly enjoy the fruits of our labor by being treated to the splendors of the desert. God's creation blooms everywhere in full glory. Reds and greens and blues so so bright you gotta squint.
SHEP: "You're leading this thing."
THE KID: "Yup, you need to lead it."
ME: "Gimme the rope."
SHEP AND THE KID IN UNISON: "Atta boy."
It pains me to type what happened next. My fingers ache with each tap on the keys. I got 15 feet up and the demons started whispering dark, acidic thoughts into my brain. "You're gonna fall, Dude....its gonna hurt....you're gonna rip that yellow TCU, and you know there's no real pro below it...you got lucky on Snake Dike, and Royal Arches, and Tenaya, and Cathedral and all those other routes you did last year...you're gonna fall and fall hard if you try to go up there....you have no idea whats up there....maybe that crack just peters out, maybe your new shoes wont stick......Shep should lead this so you can just get on with this......GO DOWN!!!!"
I cant believe it, but I down-climb, ill at my decision. I yank off the shoes and sit in the sun, wondering what's up. Why do I do this to myself? I dunno, good days and bad days I guess. I sit at the base and take photos, trying not to get weak sauce all over my camera. Shep leads on in style and the route is super fun. I'd love to come back someday for it again.
Anybody know what its called?
So....We only took a litre and a half of water. INTO THE DESERT!!!! What were we thinking? I'll tell you what we were thinking. We had a long and entertaining discussion about Bear Grylls right before we left the car. Bear would have taken less. But by 1:00 we were having visions of that episode where he drinks his own urine. The thought briefly croses my mind, then I remember what I have had to drink in the last 24 hours: One Grande Cafe mocha, three Hansen's Pomegranate Natural soft drinks, one Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, one New Belgium Brewing Flat Tire Ale, one half glass water, four swigs of Tropicana Orange juice and three cups of campfire cowboy coffee. My urine is just one big kidney killing mai tai. Who wants to drink a combo of IPA and Pomegranate anyway. So we bail to the car where we have little water but lots of frosty drinks on ice. On the way, we find this little guy.
We hydrate at the car, I send flowers to my wife (its her birthday weekend.....ask me later) and we fight the urge to go back to camp. We head over to this thing. It looks like Tehipite Dome and I get further dehydrated thinking of Leversee's route way back there in Tehipite Valley. Someday I'd love to have a go at that thing. I should probably get in better shape though eh? They got a 5.3 on that thing?
(The real Tehipite Dome)
Before dinner, I scramble up the backside of the Cyclops and catch a sunset. I sit there with two dues from Colorado and we swap tales of epic ascents and failures as the sun sets over Hidden Valley. Man, I love this place.
(Please read this next part to yourself like a quiet golf announcer)
The gong sounds and The Iron Shep goes to work.....What's that there...oh, great call, looks like he's using some preseasoned shredded chicken....is that cilantro...I think it is...next he's...what? Stirring fresh frijoles into the mix...Outstanding...It looks like some salsa has made it into the picture....and Oh my....YES! A real Avocado! What do we have here? A full bag of shredded cheddar! Ladies and gents he's giving last nights steak feast a real run for its money.....and shut your face! Its real sour cream from the ice chest! This is going to be amazing! He's now individually heating tortillas over the open flame! Tijuana look out...Fresno may be home of the Nation's meth labs, bad air and teenage pregnancy, but thes boys know how to bring Mexico to the desert!
BAM! Dinner is served.
SUNDAY MORNING: LAST DAY IN THE 'ZERT
Shep is feelin real climbey. He spotted a route in the guide called Fresh Squeezed .10a over on Reggie Dome. We bee-line it to the dome and have the place to ourselves. There is not even the slightest odor of weak sauce in the air. Today we will triumph over mediocrity. Today will do Bachar justice. Today we will back off nothing.
Here is Shep gettin a full glass of Fresh Squeezed...
By the second bolt I'm not TOTALLY pumped, but my hands won't work. They've swollen overnight from abuse and fully will not cooperate. All I can think of is my first patient on moday and how I wouldn't want to be him. I cant even untie my harness after lowering off. The Weak Sauce has found me again. Maybe I still have some on my shirt from yesterday. Or maybe Nate spread some on my second burrito last night. Anyway, Shep is still on top, so we third class up to the summit and enjoy a 360 view of the desert. The top spot is always a good place. Its wind and cold and kinda alpiny and it suits us just right. In the desert it seems, even the short summits are big. Man, I love me a good summit. Even if I get there the easy way. The journey is the payoff. The friendship, the sweat, the laughs, the back-offs, the successes, the failures...they're all good stuff. It's the moment where 5.3 = 5.11. Where memories of past and present and future are made and sustained. For a moment we sit there and soak it all in. The sun has just enough warmth and the open exposure seeps into our bones. Project Winter Mayhem 2010 is in the books. Its time to go home. Weak Sauce never tasted so good.
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