Wednesday, February 3, 2010

June-uary Love

June-uary 2010: What was supposed to be one of the coldest months of the year, was unseasonably warm in Bishop. The snow melted from the granite eggs of the Buttermilks. I worked on my tan at the volcanic tablelands. I fell in love.

Shannon Moore and I walking through the Buttermilks

Love never starts smoothly. I arrived in the middle of December, I left the sandstone sport climbing in Kentucky, drove past the bright lights of Vegas, through the sand dunes of Death Valley, and into a great desert. Hot springs bubbled along the side of the road. A recent storm covered the ground with snow. I stopped at the Looney Bean, a coffee shop on Bishop’s Main St., filled my body with hot chocolate and pastries, and spent an hour kicking in my sleeping bag, trying to warm up so I could fall asleep in the back of my station wagon.

Night time at the pit

The suffering began at the Owens River Gorge, a great crevasse in between the ski town of Mammoth and the honky-tonk of Bishop and the first climbing spot to dry. I drudged down through the snow. It was cold in the sun and colder in the shade. The weather moved in fast. What started out as a sunny morning on easy terrain, became desperately slapping up a 5.10 sport arĂȘte in a snow storm. Baltic. My hands stuck to the large flat edges and the heat drained from my arms. It reminded me of the time when I was on Gasherbaum 5, when the wind howled and the air froze. It was just me and the mountain. That was back in ’67, when I couldn’t afford crampons, and wrapped my feet in barbed wire to kick steps. Just me and the mountain. It was the type of suffering that some people love and the type of ex that I was happy to leave behind.

Owens River Gorge

Me on Thieves in the Temple 12a at the Gorge

I spent the first three quarters of my trip getting into bouldering shape. Pulling holds down to your waist and stepping above your elbows isn’t easy. Bouldering requires trying hard, something I can rarely muster the gumption to do. The technical nature of the Buttermilks kept shutting me down. The vertical rock is coarse, requiring fancy footwork and hard calluses. My finger tips bled. And I fell. I fell a lot. I thought about joining a club and beating myself over the head with it. This was the type of suffering that I could love.
The newness of my relationship wore me down. I needed rest. My friends and I spent the afternoon riding sleds down the Buttermilk road. The slush of the snow packed down hard enough for the orange plastic to shoot down the hill. Wesley, a chow-labrador who I was dog-sitting, chased me down, trying desperately to tackle me. Then the sun came out. Life became dreamy. The snow melted from the huge boulders of the Buttermilks. My toes stopped freezing when I went to sleep at night. I stopped hating Bishop.

In order of intelligence- Shannon Moore, James Lucas, John Vellatio

In an effort for something different, I sought out highballs, figuring they would be “easier”; the moves would be easier; the problems would just be more frightening. On the Roadside boulder, a tall v3 at the Buttermilks, the last bit to the summit involves high stepping onto a granite smear. Just as I moved my leg into position, I hit the end of my pants. The thick fabric of my Dickies wouldn’t stretch to allow me to step any higher. Twenty feet swam below me. I closed my eyes, tried to not think about breaking my ankle, and screamed, “Eek!” I summited. My friends laughed at my mouse squeak. I am tough. I knew that the Buttermilks loved me for that.

Creg Phares working Highbrow at the Happies

People swarmed the more gymnastic climbing of the Happies and Sads. The volcanic rock, with its big holds, big moves, and steep terrain, attracted a more movement oriented crowd, the people who focused more on the physical difficulty of the problems than the aesthetics. A guy at one of the warmup boulders, the “Girlfriend” boulder, stood around looking for just that. He was focused on digits just not the bouldering kind. I shook my head. I was a single man but I had found my love.

Matt Ciancio at the Happies

Eventually, I had to leave Bishop. I needed a job. Actually, I didn’t need a job-I needed a paycheck. I left with sore muscles, less skin, and an intense feeling of satisfaction. I wasn’t sure if I’d find a job back in the Bay area. I was sure I would return. How could I fall out of love with a place that tortured me?

Another evening in the Pit

All photos thanks to Eric Ruderman