Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Flying lessons and hairpin bends

We have just had an amazing three days. We hired a Harley Davidson and have ridden quite a long way up towards San Francisco. Last night we stayed with a family we met ten years ago when they lent us their vehicle to take our family to Death Valley.

Mike is an aeroplane mechanic and flying instructor so this morning he borrowed a plane and gave us a two hour lesson, so I now have a log book with my first lesson logged in it! We flew up the coast to Hearst Castle, then inland to the San Andreas fault and then back to San Louis Obispo, it was fantastic. Then we left and rode along an amazing road which had ten mile straights in which we drove at 90mph and then twisty mountain roads. We are staying at a place called Ojai now. Tomorrow we take the bike back (we will have ridden over 600 miles in three days) and then leave California for NZ. We love California, it is just one great playground.

The three of us flying over California. Thanks Mike!

The sun sets for our final time this trip in California

Harley Davidson Electra Glide in maroon (not blue)

We picked up or Harley today, a 1600cc beast. Left LA on highway 1 with cloud building. By Santa Barbara it was raining hard! We were wet and cold (reminiscent of many motorbike trips at home) so we stopped at a motel in Buellton, the world famous home of split pea soup.

The next morning the weather was sunny and clear again so we set off for the Pacific Coast highway north of San Simeon. Once we were off highway 101 and onto the PCH the views were fantastic, the road spectacular and the weather glorious.

At the end of a great days riding we arrived at our friends the Kundes in San Louis Obispo, who we had met ten years previously in Red Rock Canyon (California not Nevada). After a fantastic meal at F McKlintocks Saloon (where American presidents have eaten) we stayed in their trailer parked outside their house .

Cycling along Venice Beach

Desert left behind we hired bikes to see some more sand, this time on the Pacific coast. We rode from Marina Del Rey to Santa Monica along the beach side cycleway on a fog-bound day.

The cycleway next to the beach

Sharon with Santa Monica Pier

Friday, 26 October 2007

We leave the high desert

The moon rises over our campsite in J Tree

Rocks sillhouetted by the setting sun

We tore oursleves away from Joshua Tree today and drove into the smog of Los Angeles which is made worse by the smoke from the wildfires burning around the area. We are now established in the flashpacking hostel called the Marina Del Ray hotel described on their website as; - Set against the blue waters and gleaming boats of the world’s largest man made small-craft harbor, Marina del Rey Hotel is an oasis of leisure and elegance in sunny Southern California. Hotel guests can relax amid the soothing waters of the Pacific and lush, tropical gardens brilliant with color. You will enjoy our resort’s unique position at the tip of Bali Peninsula, with excellent access to boating, sailing, fishing and a variety of water sports.

Oh, travelling is hard work, but we have camped for the past seven nights and had our first shower for a week tonight. Booked a Harley Davidson Electra Glide for Saturday.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Back to school

We decided that as part of our travels we are going to try and visit a school in each country we go to ... so we started with 29 Palms Junior High School.

29 Palms Junior High School (equivalent to UK years 8 and 9)

On our first visit we sat in on a Math, English and Woodwork classes and then on a second visit a special education literacy class. The similarities between education in the USA and UK were striking; teachers are teachers and children are children. The teaching sounded the same and the children acted the same. What was so different were the systems with students following a the same timetable of 6 - 50 min lessons every day for a semester of half a year. This consisted of a core of Math, English History and PE plus 2 electives (which included all of the other subjects). The subjects are worth credits and students have to pass 110/120 to progress to the next grade or they are held back.

Lessons had the same feel as in the UK but the work seemed to be very workbook-based. The curriculum appeared to be modular and standalone rather than the UK spiral curriculum but we discovered that each state decides its own curriculum rather than a national one and examines it using their own systems. In California there is a push to raise literacy levels so the special education class we saw was 10 students with specific learning problems with literacy who had an input of 3 hours a day reading intervention 2 hours math intervention and PE every day. They were offered enrichment activities ... after school! They were only allowed back with their peers when their literary reached the required level (but they did receive their 120 credits for doing it!). If they didn't pass ... they were held back! No broad and balanced curriculum here then!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Two falls, no submissions.

Illusion Dweller 5.10b, the iconic route of the first trip to Joshua Tree in 1993. Time to try it again 14 years after the first time when Bruce led it. It maintained its reputation as a sustained route with hard moves all the way. The starting crack spat me out, the middle section was sustained and lacking in footholds and the final steep crack saw me taking a ten foot fall when the right foot slipped off. Total concentration and effort. The route had all the adventure I remembered.

Just above the starting crack where fall 1 occurred

The team before us climb Illusion Dweller 5.10b

Sharon abseiling back down the route

Chilling after the adventure

Monday, 22 October 2007

Music in the desert

Merle Jagger, Tim Easton, The avett brothers, Jake Shimabukuro heard of them? Well neither had we until yesterday when we attended the Joshua Tree Roots music festival. This was definitely a California hippy scene with hula hoops, flowers and strangely smelling cigarettes. The music was generally brilliant, have you ever heard a Hawaiian Ukulele player playing Shirley Temple?

Video of Jake Shimabukuro playing his Ukulele at the J Tree festival

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Rope jams and snakes

Started the day climbing Comic Book, a 2 pitch crack climb. Really enjoyable until the descent! On pulling the ropes after the first abseil it blew into the crack and jammed solid. The pitch had to be re-climbed and the rope freed (how do they manage to get so jammed on their own?)

Sharon coming to the top of Comic Book.

Driving through the desert listening to Joshua Tree by U2

The last route of the day was another crack called Dogleg Crack, we topped out as the sun set and drank some beer as the colours changed.

Dogleg Crack

Sharon on top of Dogleg Crack as the sun sets

Walking home in the dark we came across this ...

Which we think is a rattlesnake, but luckily only a baby (about 6" long).

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Spiders in the desert

Joshua Tree may not have bears that raid your food but there are other dangers to contend with.

Tarantula we saw crossing the road!

It allowed us to video it. See it here!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

From the ridiculous to the sublime

We have decided!!! See the last comment on Sublime to Ridiculous blog. This is an extract from an email Sharon sent _

'Hi from Las Vegas
We have had one night in LV at the Tropicana. Dick nearly had a panic attack in MGM, I managed to steer him to the relatively calm Rainforest café...'

We are too much country bumpkins - we could not stand the rampant consumerism of LV and the sight of people gambling at 10am was too distressing. We have escaped to our favourite place Joshua Tree, where we can spend our last week before we hand back the Jeep and pick up the motorbike!

Climbing Frozen Sand Dunes

Just 19 miles West of Las Vegas is the beautiful Red Rock Canyon. Mind you, it takes ages to get there from LV as there must be 50 sets of traffic lights! On arrival you pay $5 entry fee and then have to follow a 13 mile one way loop around the park. As we didn't know where the climbing was we set off around and then had to repeat the loop when we found the climbing we wanted was at the first pull out (there are over 2000 routes from short sport routes to three day face climbs!). The red rock is good quality sandstone formed when sand dunes became calcified.
Arriving at the canyon. Routes hard to find,had to get the beta from some local climbers.
We climbed 6 routes 3 x 5.9 and a 10a in Black Corridor (in the shade) and two routes on a sunny face called The Magic Bus. Sharon led a 5.7.

Sharon leading on The Magic Bus

Us at sunset in Red Rock Canyon, LV.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Woke up this morning to sunshine coming in through the tent door. After leisurely breakfast and reading first part of Carol's dissertation (which she had emailed to me) we set off to explore Death Valley.

Sharon at the lowest point of Death Valley 282 feet below sea level

Heading off into the middle of the valley on a salt road

At a natural rock arch where we had lunch. It had to be ascended didn't it, so the left route was followed.

Zabriski Point, unfortunatly on the road to ...

Las Vegas - where we are now at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino for two nights so that we can go climbing at Red Rocks tomorrow! What a difference from last night, we are not sure which we prefer?

That's a long way to go to dry your washing

After a night at the Thunderbirds Motel (to download the England v France rugby match via their wireless) when we heard T'Birds 1,2 and 3 taking off (it was nosiy!) we did some washing in the local laundromat. Our $1 was not enough to get the clothes dry. 'I know' said Sharon, 'there is a place not far from here which has the record for being one of the hottest places on Earth. It is called Death Valley and there is a 'shortcut' that will get us there in about 85 miles'. So off we went as the cloud was building and the weather about to change in Bishop.

The first 30 miles were on roads that took us into the mountains, then for the next 50 miles we were off road and in the deep desert. You knew you were a long way from 'real roads' when a sign mid way advised one to get help either '40 miles back to Big Pine or 40 miles on at Death Valley entrance station'! We didn't have the required two spare tyres but we did have lots of water.

Our dusty Jeep just before we descended from the mountains into the North end of Death Valley.

See a video of the route here

The washing hanging up in the drying room. With an outside temperature of 32 degrees C it dried fast

On entry to Death Valley we did some more geology. Ubehebe Crater, 600 foot deep and 1.5 miles around. Sharon ran most of the rim on the cinder track.

Our camp at Furnace Creek. At sunset it was still 30 degrees C but very dry. After tea, we watched England beat France to progress to the world cup final. Will have to arrange to purchase this game and dowload it as well now!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Nearly 11000 feet high

The draw of the snow on the High Sierra was too much, we had to get up into it to experience it first hand. We drove up to the trailhead at North Lake situated at 9300' then walked past Loch Leven then on to Piute Lake at 10980'. The walk was through a superb example of a glacial valley and the views of the 13000' peaks on either side were fantastic with the sun shining on the snow and them. It is a really strange situation to be walking in snow with a T shirt on, but as the sun disappeared the temperature dropped rapidly.

We decided that tomorrow we want to wild camp, which means a backcountry permit and obligatory bear safe food canister.

Crossing a log bridge in the forest before we broke out into the open valley

At Lake Piute, 10980'

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Bishop and views

We came to Bishop on the advice of our friends in Yosemite to climb in the Owen River Gorge. Well, it is not Yosemite for sure! Rather it was a deep canyon (as the name might suggest!) with what we would call 'esoteric climbs'. Worth a day, we climbed 5.8, 5.10b and 5.10a and Sharon led a 5.5 but not a longer stay ... there are more places to try (such as Red Rocks Nevada where we go next). The views here are fantastic, however. To the West are the High Sierras and to the East the mountain range that borders Death Valley. The changing light (now that the snow and rain have moved on) cause endless changes of colour and contrast

The High Sierra with Mount Tom (the highest peak) from the dirt road into Bishop from our campsite

The view towards Death Valley at sunset

The High Sierra across the desert

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Moving on

Our time in Yosemite is over and we moved on on the 11th October. Lucky we did really as the weather was changing.

Our Jeep below El Cap as we left the valley

Half an hour later thick cloud rolled into the valley and cloud started to build

We walked up Lembert Dome in Twolumne Meadows, which was so different from Yosemite - no people, then drove out of the Park into Lee Vinning where we stayed for the night.

Us on top of Lembert Dome.

Sharon looking at the view back to Yosemite. You can see the cloud coing up the valley

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Yosemite multi pitch

Well, El Cap routes might be 30 + pitches (Alex and Tom Huber just broke the speed record for the ascent in under 3 hours - see here for a report on their quick ascent) but we did our own version of the big wall adventure with a six pitch route called Nutcracker Sweet (5.8). Unfortunately we forgot the camera so no pictures of this one but we had a great time on perfect cracks and corners. The crux was a steep roof just below the final crack.

Manure Pile Crag. The line of Nutcracker goes up the right side and the crux roof can be seen at the top of the photo

Following the long descent from the crag (called the Manure Pile - because there used to be stables below it!) we did the first pitch of another route called After 6 (5.6).

Sharon just below the first belay on After 6

Tomorrow we move on. Yosemite has a real magic and we could stay easily (people do for years!) there is so much to do but we ought to move on and explore some more of sunny California.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Half Dome and Back

We have just returned from a three day trip in wich we climber Half Dome, 8824 feet. We walked up to Little Yosemite Valley, camped there, day 2 climbed Half Dome and returned to camp, day three walked back down. The views were awesome and the route up well ... see the photos below.

On the walk up. We are going to the top of that!

Sitting on the summit

The cables that you have to pull yourself up on and slide down on

Sharon high above Yosemite Valley

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Narnia and Bears

The weather was definitely different today. Temperature just on freezing level and snow above 6000'. Clouds shrouded El Cap that only yesterday had been in full sunshine, we really felt for the climbers some of whom appeared to spend the day in their portaledges, not moving at all.

The SW face of El Cap

After a magical walk through a giant Sequoia forest at 7000' where the snow covered trees looked like a scene from Narnia we returned to the valley bottom where we saw our first real sight of ... a bear... it was huge!

Sharon below a giant Sequoia tree

The bear we saw about 50m away (what you don't see are all the other people who also saw and photographed it! No wonder they are not scared of people!)

Friday, 5 October 2007

Bicycles and changing weather

After our usual visit to the beautiful Ahwanhee Hotel for free coffee and internet, we set off to hire bicycles. What bicycles they were. The guy told us no-one would steal them and we found out why they sell the same at wheelbase with flowers all over, just Dick's thing!

Sharon at the Awahnee Hotel where we get free wireless and coffee! We can't work out if we are meant to but lots of others do as well! The Hotel don't seem to mind.

Rode or in my case wobbled our way to Mirror Lake which is just a meadow at this time of year but with spectacular views of Half Domes steep-side.

After looking at the memorable views around Half Dome we rode to Yosemite Falls which are dry at this time of year. From here you could make out the climbers on the big faces and high up on Lost Arrow spire (which Leo Holding slacklined across a couple of years ago. See Leo doing the stunt here)

Yesterday the weather was changing, windy and cloud building. During the night it rained for a long time and this morning the cloud is down the mountain faces and the temperature is 4 degrees C. It turned out in the morning that it wasn't actually rain but hail! We couldn't help thinking about the big wallers stuck up on the El Cap face but we assume they are prepared for the weather as it is October and by the end of the month they are expecting heavy snow in Yosemite.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Big Wall Climbing

We did it, the climbers dream, a route on El Capitan, well to be honest the first pitch of one. We did look up in awe at those doing the real thing, it is soooooooo big!!

Starting Footstool on El Cap. Above us on day 1 and day 3 are two other parties that can just be made out if you know where to look!

We even cooked our lunch on a ledge 70m up El Cap SE face, before coming down for a shower!

Sharon using the stove on the ledge on El Cap