It Was The Summer of 17′

Tuolumne Meadows, Like the Back of My Hand


Not much of a sleeper, so I snuck out of the truck to stretch my legs before the sun came up. The back seat of the truck was taking a bit more toll on my lower extremities than I had expected. Listen to me, I sound like an old old-timer. I walked down hill a ways and after marking my tree and looked out at the hazy landscape. Granite, granite everywhere littered with western white and lodgepole pines and mountain hemlocks in between. The greenery worked hard to find weaknesses in the granite in which they could anchor their roots. A battle raging for millennia, but the granite still prevails.

We pulled into the visitors center to stock up on water and take care of personal hygiene and our stomachs hurried us along to find a spot to heat up some breakfast. Lembert Dome picnic area looked like it would do the trick so we pulled in just before the parking lot began to fill up. We gathered our breakfast supplies and as we heated our food Jen and I ran through the descriptions and topo maps for the approach to Mt. Conness West Ridge. One ear was listening to Jens inquiries and suggestions and the other to two peculiars on at the picnic table next to ours.


One of the two looked a bit more dirt-baggy and I overheard him complaining about getting kicked off street corners for playing his guitar for donations. His loosely fitted flannel shirt and baggy sweats complimented his shaggy hair and unruly beard. His picnic table mate was a bit more organized. His little Subaru had his supplies neatly stacked and organized. Everything looked like it was meticulously placed. His fully white mustache would rest perfectly at the edge of his mug as he sipped his tea. I couldn’t resist and wanted to pick his brain on what we were about to embark on. He seemed to belong to the landscape, like the trees that found a way to spread their roots amongst the granite.



“Excuse me Sir? Can I pick you brain for a minute or two?” I explained what our plan was for the day and both peculiars had a puzzled look on their faces when I mention that I was expecting it to take 3/4 of the day. “Oh no no, most people hike in and spend the night at the base, summit, and come back the next day. It’s a two day affair.” Jen and I looked at each other realizing that we quickly needed to start from scratch, looking for routes that could be done that day. By this time Jen jumped in on the conversation and was throwing route names at the older gentleman. He would answer any question we had knowledgeably and I felt rude for failing to introduce myself amidst all the beta he was sharing. “George” he answered to my introduction. “George Ridgley” I though nothing of it at the moment. Few more routes were tossed George’s way, “Oh yeah Greg and I set the one.”… “That one too” Jen took a closer look at the the route descriptions, particularly where it says who set the route. ‘George Ridgley, Greg Barnes’ the descriptions would read time and time again. “Wait…. you’re George Ridgley?” Jen finally exclaimed. “Yeah, Greg and I have been coming up here and we set a few routes.” Yup that sealed the deal, I was going to try to talk him into joining us to climb today. I first bribed him with some tea, Jen ran off to the truck and gathered up a robust selection and he picked out the Earl Grey. “George, you have got to come climb with us!” He agreed after letting us know that one of his climbing partners, who had pulled up earlier showing off his injuries, was out of commission and the other has yet to arrive in the park.



On the way to our first climbing area on Pywiack Dome, George pointed out various rock formations, explained their significances, and routes that traced their features. We landed ourselves a personal tour guide that had spent the last 40 years climbing, backpacking, and setting routes in Tuolumne Meadows. He guided us in to our parking spot and a quick approach put us at the base of our route in minutes. We had a 15 minute wait that we utilized picking his brain further about this or that park related. His answers to all of the questions were close to the surface and did not require much digging. Our failure to do Mt. Conness had quickly turned into a blessing.



Jen led both pitches of Zee Tree 5.7 that was the perfect introduction to face climbing. Small features allowed for some hands and feet, while the rest was accomplished through smearing. George followed and I pulled up the rear. A Italian couple followed closely behind. I could hear them bickering in Italian at the anchors below me as I started up the 2nd pitch. As we set up our rap, clouds began to move in and we decided to head down to Tenaya Lake and fill our stomachs while we waiting to see what the weather would do.



We parked next to the lake and I B-lined it to the the shore and jumped in for a quick swim. The cool temperature of the water was voided by an ambitious swim pace. George and Jen took their place among the bouldery shore as I turned and started my way back. I paused to tread water and soak in my surroundings. I could not believe how different things looked from the last time I had visited Yosemite in my early teen years. I was not looking at the landscape with the same appreciation as I did now. I was not looking through the eyes of a climber as I did now. It was enlightening, I did not want to leave, but treading water wasn’t keeping me warm enough so I decided to close the gap to the the shore.


Photo above compliments of Jenny Aragon


By the time we finished our late lunch the weather rolled in and we began to feel the precursing drops off a heavier rain. We decided to head back to the Post office and call it a day. We pulled up to the post office to find soaked roads and people hiding beneath its roof line. Looked like a heavy cloud just made its way through. The general store had cold beers for Jen and George and the Cafe had a warm coffee for me, which i ended up no t having the patience for waiting out the long line. George introduced us to more peculiars that looked like they lived in the park and each had something valuable to share. We got our instructions and beta for the next stop, a hot spring, and hesitantly parted ways with our new friends who have come to know this landscape like the backs of their hands. We did not climb nearly as much as we would have liked but drove off utterly satisfied. Thank you George, Cliff, and Stew.


Photos above compliments of Jenny Aragon



It Was The Summer of 17′

The Humbling

“Is there a lot of smoke in the valley? Do you think it will be alright to climb?” “Yes if you like to climb in the smoke.” was the answer we got as we pulled into the Yosemite east entrance. That answer was not one we wanted to hear but we had several hours before sunset and wanted to get a few routes in the valley. We chose to pass up Tuolumne Valley Routes as we were going to spend the entire next day climbing the Alpine route of West Ridge Mt Conness.



The view of the valley lifted our spirits and the smoke looked like it was manageable but we were racing the clock. The entire drive Jen was doing a far better job at navigating and planning out the stops than I ever would have and we had already zeroed in on a few beginner routes. As soon as we came off the ridge and looped east El Cap and Half Dome came into view.



We parked and frantically got our gear together and started our approach to the base of El Cap. It was easy to spot, even through the dense forest, as the sun had already started its descent to the horizon painting the granite gold. Its presence was that of towering nobility, and my mind began to grasp the sense of accomplishment of climbers who have traced it’s features to the the top. One day, I will spend a night or two somewhere along the 30 some pitches that take you to the top, but for now we settle on a single 5.9 pitch.



Gear rack slung over my shoulder chest out, chin high, looked straight up to the heavens, high fived Jen and was off. That was short lived, oh so short lived. La Cosita Right starts right off the bat with “strenuous liebacking guaranteed to generate a pump” according to Super Topo. I got pumped alright, I was working so hard that I passed gas, just above face level of my climbing partner. I could tell Jen was trying so hard not to laugh out of concern for me loosing my grip. I would not have minded, I would have laughed my ass off right with her. After several tries and only three cams in we called it. It was going to be far too much work for the amount of daylight remaining.

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Meek and lowly I coiled the rope and we made our way to La Cosita Left 5.7. My approach to the wall wall was far more humble this time around. I placed my hands on the granite with reverence and a subconscious prayer for safe passage to the the anchors above. This route too required lots of work, but it was not a lieback. I chimnied my way up the first section and had to follow a large crack that led to a bulging rock. My technique skillset is very small when it comes to climbing and often times my strength will get me out of jams. Granite was also something new to me. Even though they often times don’t stay put, Pacific Northwest Chauc offers holds with many features that is easy to climb. My limited climbing to my region was a dose of reality. Halfway up the route I was convinced that upon returning home I would devote time to practicing different climbing disciplines and techniques for different environments. Several moves were aided and by the time I reached the anchors the sun was well below the horizon. There was just enough light to clean 3/4 of the gear, for the rest I asked Jen for a headlamp.

I was upset with myself. I was upset that it took so long and that Jen did not get her try at El Cap. I wanted to make it up to her so I decided to let her lead the remaining climbing that was to happen throughout the trip. It was her move back after all and her epic farewell to the PNW.



Tired and hungry we made it to the cafeteria of the Yosemite Valley Lodge and scarfed down our food as the chairs were being stacked and carpets vacuumed. We needed to make it back to Tuolumne Meadows but exhaustion warranted otherwise. Finding a small pulloff 10 miles shy of the meadows we committed to much needed rest.


It was the Summer of 17′


Ready Set Go

When my friend Jenny mentioned having to move back to Denver my ears perked up a bit. “Road Trip” I thought to myself. The countless destination possibilities kept my mind wandering in the months prior to hitting the road. After a few informal planning session we put together our itinerary on the back of a IKEA Cabinet instruction manual, it was the only somewhat blank piece of paper in my disorganized laptop bag. But it was enough, the blueprint to the cabinet served as a blueprint to our adventure toward Colorado.


From Portland we headed to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had a late start and left 12 hours later than expected which put us into the park just after 10 pm. I am sure sleepy people were cursing at us from within their tents as we made several loops at multiple campgrounds. After zombieing our way out of the campgrounds we drove to Lassen Peak Trailhead parking lot and made due with the truck cab. We had a long day ahead of and wanted to start the day with a hike to the summit of Lassen Peak. A 5:00 am start would have put us near the top of the southern most active volcano of the Cascades.



From the the 8500′ parking lot the well maintained trail is 5 miles roundtrip and gets you to the top of one of the largest lava domes on earth. Lassen peak is also one of only 2 volcanoes that have erupted in the contiguous United States in the 20th Century, Mt St. Helens being the other. The sun started to pull off the horizon as we made it to the the summit ridge.


After a short scramble you will find yourself enjoying a 360 degree view of California from 10,457′. If I am ever in this area during the winter a skimo run will be a necessity. We stayed just long enough to snap a few pictures and jogged down to keep up with our aggressive schedule.



On our way up, and down, we could see Lake Helen tucked behind Lassen’s massive shadow. It looked unimpressive until the sun was high enough to peak over Lassen’s shoulder and paint the lake a beautiful torquise. We found a rock ledge overlooking the lake and busted out the Mountain House.



After brunch we strolled around what was left of the ice patches at the lake’s shore. I disregarded the sign warning of the thin ice and proved it’s necessary existence when the top layer of ice I was walking on broke through and I nearly went for a swim. At least Jen found it amusing with her “I told you so” look all over her face.



We buzzed through the rest of the park that had several other prominent peaks and steam vents scattered throughout the landscape. Lassen was a pleasant surprise and we were glad we went off the interstate to drive through it. It is an amazing place that I had no idea existed until we started to plan out our route. Next stop: Yosemite.

Sunrise at Beacon

After several attempts I was able to be present on a clear morning to get a shot of the sunrise on Beacon Rock. The Gorge has a mind of its own when it some to weather and I have always greeted early mornings under the cover of fog or clouds. Today was different.


Big thanks to Jenny for joining me for the climb to a ledge where we waited for day break. By waited I mean slept. After a quick Alfredo Dinner and some chamomile tea we lingered on falling asleep. The densely packed Milky Way directly above above our heads was only interrupted once by a passing helicopter on its way to Portland. The bats stayed up long past our bedtime, and our night light was the occasional train that would illuminate the cliff face.


Some how the day hints at its arrival and there is no need for the alarm clock.



Some answer the call while others…



But eventually the coming day gets her way.



And reminds us that as much as we’d like, we can’t stay.



Oatmeal and coffee, muffins had to wait. We watched on as fisherman below dropped anchor and set their bait. On an island just little ways away, a herd of elk, 15 strong, began their day. Grazing lazily, on a pasture greener, as I rushed to get to work, and Jenny to her Weiner.



Just last week we made a quick hike up, with an overnight, to just below the Jefferson Park Glacier. Today the area that we hiked is closed due to wild fire. My thoughts and prayers are with fire crews working the lines. I have yet to do a write up on it but I was reminded of the sunset we experienced that evening. As the sun gets closer the the horizon everything is immersed in that alpine glow right to the very last sliver of sun that peaks over the horizon. It reminded me off a period in my life with more turmoil than usual. It is in our lowest lows and our highest highs that we realize what it is to be human. I was experiencing both at the same time. Fighting in courts to see my daughter more, and for one of the suns many sets, watching it disappear over the horizon with my 9 year old daughter. I thought of this when helplessly watching the sun, and that moment with my daughter, disappear never to be duplicated again. From there on just a memory, and this a reminder.

Man has poached

Man has hunted
Man has trapped
King of all predators
Our history mapped
Man has thought
Man has planned
Man has made
Free will from us
God never forbade.
Man has dreamt
Man has felt
Man has admired
To paper and canvas
His heart he retired.
We’ve done nearly all
Even reached for the skies
Man ever so tall
Above all thus far rise.
There exists a perplexion
No matter attempt
I can find no correction
My own failure contempt.
Her warmth we’ve employed
Her shine we have used
In cold days she has joyed
Our lives deeply infused.
Which is why I’m confused.
Her actions selfless and noble
Worth of all praise.
Her goodness is global
Her sight us amaze.
She is guilty of one thing
And I can’t come to terms.
Her action my heart sting
The day’s end it confirms.
Greedy and thefty
Just bear with me now
My meaning is hefty
It will question your bow.
She slips away daily
And slips the day too
Just beyond the horizon
Come to slip more than a few.
She stockpiles her spoils
Not wanting to share.
The fruit of our toils
We beg her return, but she doesn’t care.
So much man can boast
But at the day’s end
The sun takes the most
Her triumphs transcend.
We watch her in awe
In the act of her crime.
Perhaps it’s our own flaw
That we take for granted our time.

Columbia River Gorge; Cabin Creek

We are extremely fortunate to have so many canyoneering runs so close to the Portland area. There are plenty of waterfalls and creeks to run but we must take a few considerations before doing so. Lots of these places are easily accessible and a majority of the traffic is that of hikers and photographers. To continue having these places accessible we need to make sure we are not endangering anyone who maybe below. If the creek you want to run is swarmed with people avoid it, run it on a weekday when there is far less traffic. Another consideration is to tread softly. Our waterfalls are covered in beautiful mosses, and other flora that can easily be destroyed by a careless canyoneer. Be respectful to the environment and to the many photographers who cherish these pristine falls.


There are several creeks to run off the Starvation Creek Trailhead Exit off of Hwy 84 just before hood river. One of them Cabin Creek. This run has a short approach and 3 waterfalls form which to escape the summer heat under. For the parking lot hike west on trail 413 for 1/4 mile until you see Cabin Falls. Trail 414A is just east of the falls and you will need to take it uphill. 50 ft after the trail makes a sharp left to head south you will find a large log on you right (west) side. This is a perfect spot to get geared up and start to bushwack you way to the creek.


Once at the creek you will encounter your first set of falls. This is a short 20′ that has a massive fallen tree from which to set up an anchor.

From here just a short hike down to the next set of falls. There is a piece of webbing on the west side of the creek, always inspect existing webbing to ensure it is intact and able to support you and everyone in your party. This falls will take you 90′ into a slot with a pool below.


The pool below extends to the north about 40′. There is a log jammed in the slot from which to set up your next anchor. Be extremely careful rappelling this section as people will sometimes be in the pool below. Tread softly and do not kick rocks loose. This edge can sometimes be a bit tricky, just before you drop over there is a overhung portion that puts you right in the path path of the water. There is also a very narrow spot where you can easily get you ankle stuck. I have found it to be easier sticking to the west side of the water flow and easing over the edge.


Once over the edge navigate your way downwards until the next edge. about half of this rappel is free hanging so make sure you and everyone in your group is comfortable rappelling and have gloves. Those that have already made it to the bottom should stand on fireman’s belay.


Thats it! no back to the car and lunch in Hood River!


Steens Mountain; Pike Creek Peak

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