Sunday, May 16, 2010

Get stoked: The Playground

While most of my climbing compatriots look hither and thither to distant climbing meccas (think: Bishop; Yosemite; Needles; Suicide; etc.), I am utterly stoked and satisfied to climb locally this summer. Enter yet another crag that Santa Barbara climbers sort of forgot, the holy-grail of local sandstone sport-climbing: The Playground. Most Santa Barbarians know this place as a labyrinthine jumble of huge boulders cascading down the slopes of the coastal range, and only the more adventurous hikers, hippies, and soused frat boys have explored its passages. Even local climbers have, as of late, passed this place up for the nearby bouldering locales of the Brickyard and Lizard's Mouth.

Unless you were Steve Edwards and Co. in the nineties. Mr. Edwards spearheaded a highly motivated—and, to this climber, visionary—movement to clean, bolt, and climb numerous routes up the strange formations of The Playground. There are currently numerous projects that have not been finished, including a solid handful of truly hard projects in the 5.13 range. While I have only touched a smidgen of these beauties with my not-yet-strong-enough fingers, I am stoked, smiling, and slobberingly excited. Jake, Bernd, Andre, Adam, Jasmine, and my lovely wife have all accompanied me on recent trips, and everyone has left tired and satisfied.

Just like how you feel when leaving Old Country Buffet—only better.

Me shouldering in to the crux of The Green Room, 5.13b. This line is one of many desperate projects for the summer.

I don't know how hard this puppy is, but the above picture chronicles what it feels like to dyno off of two monos. In a word, wonderful.

Jake clipping the second bolt on the mono-route (which we think is called Showgirls, 5.12c). This is Jake's third lead. Ever.

Mary strolling up a beautiful face-climb at the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers area of The Playground.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chris and Rowena

Chris dunks his head in a Mission Creek waterfall.

The months since my internship in Baltimore have rolled by exceptionally fast, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then--not the least of which is my marriage, and subsequent move to Santa Ynez. Still, the memories of those humid evenings in Baltimore--languid, but for the shrill cicada and crickets--are vivid in my mind. I can still taste that first sip of post-forging beer, unimaginably cold, a thrill to my mouth. And I have many fond recollections of Chris and Rowena, the three of us crammed in their small kitchen, trying to cook apace with the influx of the August tomato crop. For the record, there's nothing like seasonal produce on the East Coast. To be sure, I missed Chris and Rowena's easy-going manner and quick laughter, and Chris--avid collecter of flight-miles that he is--decided that eight months was too long a hiatus, so he and Rowena winged it to the West Coast for a week of visiting.

It was fun to be the host to someone who has hosted my callow abilities, frequent questions, and mishaps as a blacksmith. I cooked my patoosie off and hammered out some exceptional fresh garlic-dill bread (I'm proud of my bread), Dutch Oven stew cooked in a campfire, cornbread, soups, salads, and a bevy of other consumables. Dishes piled commensurately.

Here's Chris, Rowena, and their friend (joyously, now my friend as well) Orit Yanai. She lives in San Francisco and, to quote her website (, specializes in "high-end, Old World wall finishes, focusing on earth plasters." Her dry-but-welcoming wit was all the rage during a legendary game of Balderdash.

On Sunday, Chris, Rowena, and I (Mary lounged at home this time) went hiking and swimming at Red Rock. See the top of the centrally situated rock-tower? That is a terrifyingly high perch for jumping in to the water, and the site of many a poor decision by sundry frat boys with beers.

Here I'm making the handles for the boiler doors by upsetting a rod of solid 3/4 roundstock. In this case, upsetting gives the metal a subtle bulged look.
First, I heat a short section on the end.

Then I place the end on the anvil, try to keep things vertically aligned, and hammer from the top. The cooled and harder metal at the top of the rod "smushes" the softer and hotter metal at the bottom.

The final look, before wire-brushing and finishing. Simple, but attractive nonetheless.

Pre-summer bouldering sessions continue to abound. With all the superlative summer trip ideas dancing around in my head and the massive, monolithic stones I intend to grapple with, bouldering provides ample distraction from antsy nerves--and keeps the fingies strong. Jake Novotny, a moto-cross rider from Lake Tahoe and a burly climber, has joined me on a number of occasions. He and I both sent the hard sit-start problem on the back of the boulder, calling it V8. Please: if you're in the area, climb it and tell me what you think. Left hand starts on a good crimp/edge, and right hand snags a cool three-finger divot. Paste your feet on to the nothingness below, then throw your right hand to the hueco. Brilliant.

Jake sets up...

Jake throws.