Baby Makes Three Dirtbags: A Family Climbing Trip, Part 2 of 4
Every year as the angle of the sun arcs lower in the sky, the air takes on a crisp quality, and the aspen leaves turn from green to golden fire, I start to feel a pull deep inside. An innate feeling that tells me its time to wrap up my loose ends, gather my gear, and head out on the road for the next climbing adventure before the winter season begins. For the past 14 years or so I’ve embarked on this rock climbing road trip—it has become an annual ritual of sorts. A time to send my personal projects and get some much-needed time climbing with my husband (who is my favorite climbing partner but equally as busy as I am guiding and working as a professional athlete for most of the year). This fall takes on even more significance, as my 13-month-old baby will be joining us on our annual pilgrimage.
After the long, arduous drive across Nevada, we rise over the pass near Boundary Peak, the highest peak in Nevada, along the California border. The welcome view of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range rises ahead of us. The landscape is a mecca of geologic wonder, with volcanic tufa, craters, massive fault uplifts and deep gorges, granite batholiths, glacial cirques, and a plethora of active volcanic hotspots. The valley is also home to scores of quality granite and volcanic rock, making for great climbing, with the lack of crowds typical of the desolate Eastern Sierra region.
This is not our first time in the region, and we have some places to return to, some unfinished business to attend to, as well as some new projects. We're going to focus our sights on Owens River Gorge, sport climbing and bouldering on the volcanic Bishop tuff and rhyolite formations; and Pine Creek Canyon’s endless granite with splitter trad climbing and varied granite face sport climbing. All the while we'll be taking into account family-friendly belay stances, baby-friendly climbing partners, and a heap of patience. Bringing baby generally limits us to one-pitch climbs, but this does not seem to be a hindrance, since there are so many good single-pitch climbs in the area. In the past, we've climbed big multi-pitch routes in the region, but I'm excited to return to some of the single-pitch gems the area has to offer. You see, when you decide to go on a month-long climbing road trip with your 13-month-old, you tend to find the good in any limitation, because in the end, the baby adds so much character to the trip that you forget about what you might be missing and instead find joy in the new discoveries that your child experiences. Things like throwing sticks in the creek, feeling the texture of the rock, watching birds soar over the peaks, reading “Goonight Moon” by the campfire, and listening to the soft snore of a mini person sleeping next to you in the tent, provide so much more depth to the trip.
We set up camp along Horton Creek in Round Valley just north of Bishop, which sits between Pine Creek Canyon and Owens River Gorge, along the massive sloping landscape that spans between the uprise of the Sierras and the deep gorge of the Owens River. The law of entropy unleashes as we unpack the Subaru, gear and random parts are scattered around the car. K-Bear (how I will reference my baby from here forward) helps Dad put up the tent, while Mom sets up kitchen and hammock. Although it seems chaotic there is a method to our madness, and within 20 minutes we have a serious glamping scene. Now, its time to go climbing!
Our first climbing foray takes us to the Happy Boulders on top of the Owens Valley plateau. We warm up on V1 and V2 problems while K-Bear runs, crawls, and climbs over everything she can get to. I think she's really happy to be out of the car—make that three of us who are ecstatic to be out of the car. The volcanic rock of the Happy Boulders is sharp and solid with fun, varied features. We tackle some V3 and V4 problems. I'm unpracticed and starting to feel my lack of powerful bouldering technique, but I also feel strong from all the training and summer of guiding. I'm excited to get on some longer routes to test this theory. My husband is a better climber than I—I'm the skier, he's the climber, together we help each other get better at both sports—and he pushes into the V5 and V6 problems while I help K-Bear climb a not-on-the-V-scale slab. She nails it. I can’t help but think of how she will be crushing V12 before I can comprehend it. Our bodies feel liberated and energized from the bouldering, but the sun is about to set, so we head back to camp for dinner and some hammock story time.
Day two takes us to Owens River Gorge for some sport climbing. I have some unfinished business with a 5.10+ in the Central Gorge, and my husband needs to get back to a beautiful 5.12 pitch. We take advantage of K-Bear’s naptime while we send a couple routes. Once she wakes up, we enjoy some snacks, stories, and playtime before we go for the next climb.
If we are lucky we get four to six routes in a day when it's just the three of us. When K-Bear requires more attention, we might get two to three routes. C’est la vie. Patience is the name of the game, and it makes it that much sweeter when you get to send your project. Today we climb with the three of us, in a couple days my sister and a group of friends are joining us from the Bay Area, which will make the climbing logistics easier.
Day three we head up into the higher country to climb granite. We make the short hike up into one of the side canyons. The area has huge potential and is continually being developed by a dedicated group of local climbers. There are many classics already in place, including my nemesis off-width, a 1960s Pratt classic. K-Bear enjoys the new setting and we get our granite technique dialed. So fun!
Day four and five we're joined by my sister and her friends, who add new energy and a fun dynamic to the trip. We head into Owens River Gorge on day four for some more sport climbing. I get to send some harder projects, which is made easier by the help of my sister.
Day five we take the group back into Pine Creek for more stellar granite climbing. Everyone has a good day on the granite. My husband nails his redpoint of Flame Thrower, after missing the onsite by one move a couple years previous.
I get to lead one of my favorite long 5.10’s, and my sister completes her third and fourth leads ever. The stoke is high, and the sun is setting, time for some dinner over the camp fire.
Our final day we pack up camp, after a huge breakfast I call “cooler collaboration”, where everyone pulls out their remaining food for a smorgasborg of deliciousness.
We head for a short bouldering session before our departure. It has been a great trip to the Eastern Sierras once again, and I look forward to our next visit. Now onward to Los Angeles to take a small flight detour to the Southeast for some southern hospitality and some killer sandstone to continue our fall climbing road trip. Stay tuned…