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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Season in the Desert

Updates from the road.

Tues 10.16.2012

After ten days of climbing and hiking and caping in North Devils Canyon, with anchors replaced and trails pruned and redefined and projects for the future dancing like windblown ropes in our heads, we headed down to the Salt River Basin, just beyond Mesa, AZ, to take our spot as site hosts at the Coon Bluff Recreation area.

The site overlooks the Salt River from a high sandy bluff lined with palo verde and mesquite, acacia and sage.  Prarie dogs and skunks, black widow spiders and scorpions, squirrels and ferrets, wild ponies, free-range cows, osprey and bald eagles all call the area their home, along with a healthy population of cactus wrens and doves, and a handful of water snakes and rattlers.

The local crew is a younger group trying to hold together an aging system with smaller and smaller pools of resources.  We meet Rocco and Ben and Chad, the field guys, who are swapping picnic tables in anticipation of the influx of campers we will receive after the other, more popular campgrounds of the Tonto National Forest are closed for the season.  I help carry a pinic table or two and we exchange some basic background and info about the locale.

Soon after, Kelly, our TNF contact shows, and we fill out paperwork, chat about the changes in the Tonto and AZ in general and where we will camp.  I'm suprprised and a little disappointed to learn that, although we had sent in paperwork three weeks before, our background checks still haven't been run.  This means another three days of delay before we can start our duties prepping for campers, campers who have already begu to arrive. 

It also means I could have stayed in the Canyon another two days and climbed.  I think of the sweet, steep pocketed face we had top roped and contemplated bolting, on the Shaman Wall, and the long, shaded lines of the Stormwatch, where Cindy has never climbed and a half-dozen routes are just waiting for bolts.

But funds are now too tight to take the hundred-plus mile drive for two more days of climbing, and I know, too, that the momentum of a week and a half of recall and climbing is long gone.  The drive would be no more than an exercise in frustration and futility.

Acceptance of the things we can't change is the path to calm.  I take deep breathes and enjoy the views of Red Mountain and the steep walls and cliffs around Saguaro Lake, the wrens catching bugs in acrobatic flight in the purple dusk, the distant chorus of coyotes, as the first star shines through the darkness, and night comes to the desert.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Impatient Zen

Watching, as the summer turns to russet and gold, thickening coats on creatures beyond my picture's window, a sudden transformation of the morning dew to diamonds of frost, ferns sculpted in ice across windows and patio table.  A waxing moon, setting, promises light for the road, tomorrow, should our journeys commence and end as planned.

As wind shakes the house and Cindy silently turns another page, my mind takes wing, stilling my fingers as my inner eye races south along the Front Range, crosses the Platte and Sangre de Cristos, arrowing through Raton Pass and the lingering burn scars like a raven on the wind, Sante Fe a bright pinata below and far to the southeast as I head west, across Angelfire and then down the Sandias to Albuquerque's jewelled, squalid face, then westward again to the broad plateau beyond Gallup's dusty rodeo circles and midnight trains.

Brown hills and washes, sudden arroyos and rolling dunes, brutal outcrops of volcanic stone, covered in mesquite and ocotillo, palo verde and cholla, saguaro and sage, dotted here and there with kiva and other fading relics, wound with game trails from herds long vanished, crisscrossed with ribbons of pavement and gravel, linking far-flung clusters of homesteads and commerce, huddled against the vast, uncaring blue of an endless sky, in which the sun burns like the fury of a god.

And then south, fleeing the wastelands to reach the folded promise of mountains, shimmering in the heat with the promise of cool water and deep shadows.  The Superstitions rear out of the lower desert, beyond the forests and crumbling drop of the Mogollon and Kaibab, rising like a final epitaph of Cochise and his warriors, who once used these sere, forbidding canyons and escarpments to elude the United States government's finest soldiers and trackers.  Here, amid mountains born of a violent age millennia past, and canyons carved by the ensuing ageless cycles of rain and snow, freeze and thaw, my winged mind finally came to rest, steeped in shadows of memories so deep and thick as to lose their individuality in an overall sensation of belonging.


I wait with impatient Zen, scouting for jobs in the area, looking for part-time work to fill the financial void a volunteer position entails, hiking and cooking with Cindy.  We sit like churchmice in this amazing dwelling, still stunned on some level to be made so at home in a strange city.

No matter how much I may run on, words cannot express how grateful I am to my friend Brian for his generosity and hospitality.  It is odd but somehow poetically symmetrical that a climber I met casually at the crag, within the last decade, and with whom I had spoken mainly by phone and email and with whom I shared less than four days of conversation, trail work and climbing, would, out of the dozens of people I knew scattered across the continent, become one of our best friends and aid us so selflessly.  In the midst of a life that is busy both with work that is important to more than some billionaire's balance, and play at the far end of the performance scale, this tall, quiet engineer has been both host and guide, local reference and consummate toastmaster.  Through him we have met a handful of other souls, all searching for the best and preparing for the worst, all facing Life with open eyes and willing hearts; good folks doing hard things, who in turn opened their homes and lives to us.

The desert will be a lot more empty in their absence.

But there are enough good memories to light a candle against the coming winter, til summer sun shines on us all again.

I know this feeling, this stirring of  potentials and convergences of fates and destiny.  We sort gear as the morning wanders along, the truck in the hands of good local mechanics, in preparation for the trip.  Laundry hums and cycles, cold weather clothing is stuffed further into the depths of trunks in anticipation of the Sonoran Desert heat. I file Brian's roughly-used Colorado guide book into the shelf with the rest of his guides and smile at the memories of 11 Mile and Boulder Canyon, of Nederland's hippie democracy, and even at the folly of the Indian Peaks Wilderness fiasco that ended my brief stint as a booth host.

We've worked hard and played hard, and spent time doing absolutely nothing, which is sometimes essential and sometimes indulgence.  I'd like to think ours has been a healthy mix of both.  A stack of books attests to the catching up we've done between hikes and breaks, climbs and bouldering sessions, dinners and Netflix and early mornings of French-pressed coffee spent in cerebral conversation, a tradition with my wife no matter what the setting.  Ropes have been washed, climbing and camping gear sorted, the neighborhood and Colorado Springs in general explored, and our lives are richer for having seen this part of Colorado.

We have drunk deep of Suburbia and I feel no shame in admitting I've enjoyed hot showers, flush toilets, electric lights, internet, and cell phone reception. Those things are technology, neither inherently good nor evil.  It is our national, cultural addiction to them, our craving for convenience that brings us low, and isolates us in the midst of our crowded lives and cities.  Cindy and I have been here long enough to miss the birdsong in morning's first blush, and the sound of the wind over your head as you fall asleep beneath a sky full of stars.

In the end, an old lesson; the things we want and the things we need are, more often than we'd care to admit, not found in the same list.  At least not in the same order.

What do I hope to accomplish in the sharing, in wasting cyberspace with these inanities, these wistful inner wanderings?  Nothing more than another stranger, telling his tale here in the light of the electric campfire, offering a glimpse into another humanity, bridging the gaps between the isles of light that are our individual existences.

I look for hope in a season of division and malicious malcontent, when words mean so little, and truth in a world where Truth is a word used by those who know nothing of its essence.

Scratches on slate, a handful of runes in a lost cave, echoes of the sea far from the shore.  As the waxing moon, the seasons continue their timeless roll, the tides rise and fall.  Outside, unperturbed by the world-shaking events and rumors of war, magpies peer from the bush with bright eyes, and the wind combs restless  fingers through the treasures of fall colors still clinging to the trees.

Another bit of the strand is woven, another tale told.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Colorado Rockin'

We've spent our time well...

While the job and housing market seems filled with false promises and scams, the mountains of Colorado are all that you want, and so much more.

Eight days in Colorado's 11 Mile Canyon, with frosty mornings over steaming mugs of coffee and huevos rancheros, "strolls" that turned into three hour adventures through third, fourth and fifth class terrain, from one canyon rim to the other, crags we couldn't find in the guide book that turned out to be better.  Campers and fishermen and tourists came and went around us; some good, some not so good, some ciphers without interpretation.

They were not our focus.

Noisy jaybirds woke us with loud insistent cries every morning at dawn, usually followed by the long burring bark of the squirrels, and the scampering of our personal trio of adolescent chipmunks. 

We crawled from warm sleeping bags into the frigid air and struggled outside for rapid walks to the jakes, then coffee and a smoke, wandering through camp, peering at the tracks in the sand, a tale of the night visitors.  Coyote, certainly, and fox, and then here, on a high shelf, a single bobcat print.  Further up the wash, broad impressions in the grass and fine sand mark the bear's crossing, and a night that he did not wander through our camp.

Out of the eight days and nights we spent in the canyon, we climbed five, usually from mid-morning into hot afternoons broken by the occasional rain or thunderstorm, mostly arriving at camp dry in time to hear the first drops on the tarp. 

An unknown 5.9+ "sport" route on Springer Gulch Wall, nicely shaded from the afternoon sun.  The line takes the column right to a slightly runout bolt above the roof,  with a heady traverse up left to amazing holds right when you need them and anchors.
This is the line left, which felt like 10-.  It goes directly up the face on quality rock from an overhanging start on friable holds, then puts you right under a free-floating 4-foot death block, which you can climb directly over without touching (exciting and engaging) or avoid to the left (a bit technical and slick but incredible hands, followed by a cruise all the way to the anchors).
On two of those days, we ignored lowering clouds and even a steady spritzing of rain to climb a wonderful little (100') wall about twenty minutes' hike from camp.




On the way back to camp...


...we found a lovely little boulder garden.


Of course, after all that, we had to go back.

Never did find out what any of this was called... nothing on any websites or in any guides I've found so far.  But it was fun, secluded, beautiful, as challenging or as moderate as you wanted to make it, and a short, easy ramble from camp.