Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Break in Bishop

I spent most of spring break around Bishop, CA. Situated in a valley with the Sierra Nevada to the east and the White Mountains to the west, Bishop offers some amazing scenery as well as world-class climbing. This was my first trip to Bishop, and I certainly found it lives up to its reputation. Unfortunately we didn’t have the best weather—a couple of storms came through—but even the worst day still allowed for a short bouldering session in the morning before the rain hit, and we had a day of perfect sun in Owens River Gorge.

Our first climbing ventures were at the Happy Boulders. We spent a couple of hours there before sunset on the day that we arrived, and a couple of hours the next morning before it started to rain. The boulders here formed from a huge volcanic eruption about 760,000 years ago that spewed out ash over an area more than 2,200 km2. This rock forms all kinds of cool pockets and flakes that make for really fun bouldering.

While the rain was a bit of a disappointment because it limited some of our climbing time, it led us to explore the town of Bishop itself, and to tour a fantastic photography gallery that displayed the work of the late Galen Rowell. His photographs featured some of my favorite places in the world, including Yosemite, Nepal, Patagonia, and Antarctica. I bought one of his books, Inner Game of Outdoor Photography. Maybe I can learn to emulate some of his techniques. You can see some of his photographs and books here:

The weather the next two days was quite a bit better—we spent them sport climbing in the Owens River Gorge. The Owens River carved out this steep gorge through the volcanic tableland (on which the Happy Boulders sit). It is at the center of a still heated debate, as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power bought the land in the early 1940s for the water rights and constructed the Long Valley Dam in 1941, leaving the gorge completely dry from 1953-1991. In a way this led it to become one of the first sport-climbing areas in the country. As the gorge already had a history of notable human impact when it became a popular climbing spot, its climbing pioneers felt less controversy over the ethics of drilling bolts into the rock. The genre of sport climbing relies on fixed bolts, which are more secure than traditional climbing gear (such as cams and nuts) and allow the climber to more safely try difficult routes on which he is more likely to fall.

Our last day we tried out what is probably Bishop’s most famous climbing area: the Buttermilks. The rock here was quite different from the Happies or the gorge. The area was a glacial moraine coming off from the Sierra Nevada—the climbing is on large granite boulders that were once glacial debris, dropped off from the higher mountains. It felt like a huge, beautiful playground. We left with still so much to explore—at all three areas we went to as well as the other quality sites around Bishop!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weekend in the Valley

I had a really great time in Yosemite Valley last weekend. It’s still a bit early in the season—which did us well in that it kept a lot of the crowds away. But while there was still snow on the ground, the temperature felt perfect hovering in the low 60’s during the day. And it was completely blue skies on Saturday.

I’ve taken a few trips to Yosemite by now, but I still find the valley completely breath-taking. I can’t help but glue my forehead to the window on the drive into the park. It’s no wonder that it holds such an immense role in the history of US national parks (as well as the history of climbing).

The first step towards the everlasting protection of Yosemite, as well as the first precedent of the preservation of land for public use, was in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that created the Yosemite Grant.

This paradigm allowed for the designation of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park in 1872. The renowned John Muir—explorer, naturalist, and activist—advocated for Yosemite to receive the same official recognition, which it did in 1890.

I think the establishment of these national parks was vital to the ethos of the west—the concept of wilderness and a boundless frontier. While these concepts are somewhat loaded, and have undoubtedly changed, I’m glad that we have pretty accessible places to go to today where we can at least pretend to be in the wild.

Saturday morning Matt, Brian, Anne and I headed to the Manure Pile Buttress. It’s not as unappealing as the name might lead you to believe—while it did once serve as the loading zone for horse dung, since 1965 when the route ‘After Six’ was put up by Yvon Chouinard and Ruth Schneider it’s become one of the more popular climbing destinations in the valley. Matt and I originally intended to do another route in this area called ‘The Nutcracker’, but we ended up climbing ‘After Six’ instead. It’s five pitches (or rope-lengths) of really fun, easy climbing that got us 600 feet up off of the valley floor. I had an excellent time while climbing, and enjoyed belaying from its scenic ledges as well.

We spent Sunday playing around on single-pitch climbs at the base of El Capitan. These routes didn’t take us as high, but it was fun to be able to look up at the rest of El Cap and all of its 3593-foot-high slick granite grandeur (I will admit to imaginations of how cool it would feel to be up there myself). We climbed ‘La Cosita, Left’ as well as ‘La Cosita, Right’ and the first pitch of ‘Sacherer Cracker’. It drizzled a little, which made the rock a bit slippery, but it was overall a fantastic day. After the four-hour drive back to Stanford I felt ready to go back to studying, but already excited for my next trip up off the valley floor.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Adventure Continues

It’s been awhile—verging on four years—since my last post. I find that pretty hard to believe. I’ve been a student at Stanford University for the past four years, studying Earth Systems.

This post is spurred in part by a conversation I had with a friend, Brian, this morning about the distinct feeling of being in the mountains. It made me realize just how much I miss it.

I have a bit of a breather before finals week, so I asked Brian if he’d be interested in starting the day with a visit to Palo Alto’s Foot Hills Park. We rode our bikes there (quite a steep climb itself!) and then I ran the 7.5-mile Los Trancos trail—my new favorite run. It brings you up 985 feet through woodland into open chaparral, where you can look down at Stanford’s familiar sites like the dish and Hoover tower. It then shoots down, winding along the Los Trancos Creek, with 21 footbridge crossings. This is the best part, with its fast and free downhills, a few logs over the trail to jump over, and streams that cool me down when I dip my hands or hair. It’s probably the part that’s made the trail addictive enough that I’ve run it three times in the last month.

When I finished the run it was drizzling, so Brian and I grabbed our snacks and took some cover under a thick redwood grove. We’re both lucky enough to have dads who spent a lot of time with us in the mountains as we were growing up; we talked a little about our experiences in the mountains and how incredible it is to get up while the stars are still out, and the air is crisp, and you’ve got butterflies in your belly because you know you’ll have to give a lot of yourself to get to the summit.

So, what’s happened since my brief stint on top of the world? I’m now a senior at Stanford, with just one more quarter until graduation. Of course it’s daunting trying to figure out what I’ll do next, but I’m quite happy with my ‘Stanford experience’ and the adventures that it’s had to offer. I’m an Earth Systems major, which is an interdisciplinary environmental science program. I have an oceans focus, so in addition to the Earth Systems basics (math, physics, chemistry, geology, economics, biology), I have gotten to take cool classes like physical oceanography, marine biogeochemistry, and remote sensing of the oceans.

I’ve also had some amazing research experiences. After my freshman year, I worked in Prof. Rob Dunbar’s lab on a project looking at changes in the southern hemisphere westerly winds over the last 10,000 years. I got to spend the last three weeks working in the field in Torres del Paine, Patagonia. I felt my mouth watering looking at the amazing peaks the whole time—definitely a place I’d like to return to someday.

Spring quarter my sophomore year I did the Stanford@SEA program—five weeks at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, and then five weeks aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, a 134-foot steel brigantine, as we sailed across the equatorial Pacific, from Tahiti to Hawaii. I did my project on changes in phytoplankton CO2 drawdown rates over our cruise track. I also came back a bald, tattooed sailor (I’m completely serious).

The summer after Stanford@SEA, I did Prof. Bill Durham’s Tambopata research program, in the Peruvian Amazon basin. I was there for about 8 weeks, doing a project with fellow student Ariel Marcy on the changes in soil health between primary rainforest, secondary rainforest, and on farms employing different agricultural methods. I pride myself on an ability to adapt to almost any external environment, but I feel like the rainforest pushed me on this like never before. I felt a little claustrophobic in the relentlessly dense trees, and sometimes like every creature in the forest was out to get me. But I think pushing myself that way was also good for me. I took home some incredible memories—of spider monkeys dancing through the trees, the particular smell of tapirs, and of the sloths that totally mess with your concept of time.

Last summer I started research for my honors thesis, in Prof. Kevin Arrigo’s lab on campus. It’s on how Antarctic phytoplankton adapt to different sea ice conditions. The summer was mostly lab-work, but I also got in a little adventure, as I took a sweet European climbing trip with my boyfriend, Matt. We went to Mallorca, Spain, Gimmelwald, Switzerland, and Chamonix, France. We mostly stuck to sport climbing, but also got to try out deep water soloing in Mallorca. It was really cool to focus on sport climbing for a little bit.

That’s quite the whirl-wind tour of the big adventures I’ve taken over the past four years. I would love to keep writing my current adventures and adventures to come . . . stay tuned!