Sunday, November 18, 2012

Idaho and the end of the summer.

Since returning to California at the end of August and resuming classes at the Academy, time has been passing in a blur of charcoal and paint. This semester has brought the expected amount of challenge, yet has also surprised me by the bounty of breakthroughs it's offered as well. 

But before I can go into that any further, I have to at least catch up through the end of summer. After spending a few weeks in the high country in Colorado, hiking Longs Peak and getting into tremendous cardio shape, I had the good fortune of getting to climb at the Monastery for a few days. The Monastery, an incredible crag near Estes Park, was bolted mostly by Tommy Caldwell, and the stiffness of the grades reflects their creators unbelievable strength. Up until this summer, I had only been strong enough to climb on the easier routes (which are still very hard for the grade!). It felt pretty exciting to finally get to try out some of the harder routes- or to be more precise, the easier of the harder routes- namely, Psychatomic, 12d, and The Quickening, 13c. I was able to send Psychatomic relatively quickly, but The Quickening still feels pretty far beyond my grasp. Maybe next summer... either way, Psychatomic is brilliant and it was a real joy to climb.

This is what happens when you try to climb Psychatomic three times on a hot day. 

Next stop after Colorado was Idaho, a state I had only driven through on my way to other places. I quickly developed a sincere love for the place, especially the desolate, remote area we camped and climbed at for several weeks- The Fins. 

Limestone! My favorite.
Obscure and relatively unknown, The Fins is a gorgeous limestone crag located in the absolute middle of nowhere. The only man made structure you can see from the area is an old nuclear test site, which I believe is now home to Idaho National Laboratories. The landscape is barren in the beautiful style of the Western plains- sagebrush, dried grass, big skies. Due to the excess of wildfires this summer, the sky was more often than not clouded by a thick layer of white smoke, which provided a nice cover from the sun, made for some stunning sunsets, tinted the moon orange every night, and made everything smell like a campfire. It gave the crag and the surrounding plains a rather lonesome and mysterious feeling, and often times the smoke looked more like fog. I sometimes got the impression that I was standing on a seaside cliff looking off into mist rather than on a dusty hillside in Idaho. On some days, the smoke was so thick that it completely impaired the vista, encapsulating us climbers in a cocooned world of white. It was eerily beautiful and memorable. 

Covered in smoke
Here's some thoughts I had while I was still there, back in September:

The hills here rise like small mountains
from the patchwork fields of verdant crops 
so out of place here in the dry expanse 
of scorched grass and sagebrush--
The arid, Western plains.

From this vantage, high in the hills,
the farmlands look like emeralds
cut square by a master jeweler
and I think--
this is what America means to so many.

But since this is the summer of wildfires
the sky hangs heavy with a haze so thick
it appears as mist,
as if I stood upon a seaside cliff
overlooking an ocean obscured by fog.

The thirsty hills,
dry and desolate and ready to burn
stand in the smoke with a lonesome air--
silent, still,
solitary-- I stand with them.

And the sky is like a fogged mirror
utterly bright and blank.
The black cliff birds dive into it 
and get swallowed by the air
disappearing in the white, opalescent haze.

The scenery, which I was so fond of, was equaled in quality and beauty by the climbing. Tall, gorgeous swathes of vertical or slightly overhanging limestone house some very engaging and enjoyable routes of my favorite style of climbing- technical moves on small crimps and pockets. 

Warming up on Yellow Man, 11a
Sending Pure Rock Fury, 13b

The mellow top section on Pure Rock Fury
The Fins still remains a relatively unknown crag, with most of the development having been done by local climbers. Traveling there with Jonathan meant that I got to witness a handful of new, impeccable lines go in. I also got to belay him on his first (lengthy) attempts on a few of the new routes, including Algorithm, 14d. Check out the video here: 

On our very last day, I was lucky enough to receive a bolting tutorial from Jonathan. It ended up being one of the manlier few hours of my life, due to the number of tools I got to use and the amount of hammering I did. I even got to use the power drill. 

Pretty serious.
The couple weeks I spent in Idaho were the perfect close to one of the best summers I've experienced thus far in my life. From climbing in France, dancing in the streets of Wyoming on Fourth of July, hiking in the alpine in Colorado, to climbing hard in Idaho, the summer was absolutely packed full of adventure, challenge, and growth. I got to spend most of my time outdoors in absolutely beautiful places... which prepared me to return to California and enter into another year of grad school, spending hour upon hour inside, huddled over drawings. While those experiences are certainly opposing, their juxtaposition offers me satisfaction and fulfillment on very different levels. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to pursue both aspects of my being so fully within the same year. 

Now, to return to the mounting pile of homework that stands between me and the end of the semester...

Life is great. 

1 comment:

  1. Watching your athleticism and growth as a climber and an artist is wonderful. It is so inspiring to me to watch the woman I have known for so long channel your passion into both professional growth and soaring new heights of athleticism. Inspiration can come in many forms - and you have always been one of my sources. Thanks for reminding me to always push myself above and beyond and to not be afraid to take on new challenges. <3