Saturday, February 26th, 2005

Climbing at Owens River Gorge

Can you have it all?

I had committed to this trip more than a month ago. But as the date approached, the knot in my stomach grew bigger and bigger. It would be my first time taking a trip in a private plane. I had known Tim, the pilot as well as one of my regular indoor climbing partners, for a while and trusted his experience and judgement, to which Dave, another climbing partner of ours and an old friend of Tim’s, attested eagerly. However, during the week before the trip, I found myself checking the weather forecast every hour, which was not helping to ease my anxiety at all because overcast and rain was forecasted for the weekend. I have been looking forward to this trip for weeks, but now I secretly hoped Tim would cancel because of the weather. Well, he didn’t, although he did mention a possibility to cut the trip short by returning on Sunday morning. Hmmm… he might consider cancel if I laid a guilt trip on him — “Tim, isn’t it a little expensive to fly the plane out just for one day of climbing?” “Mei, I can cut you some slack if expense is an issue.” — *sigh* since the expense was not an issue, the trick didn’t work.

6:45 AM on Saturday morning, I arrived at the hanger at Hayward airport where Tim’s plane was parked. I met Kevin and Rodney, both Tim’s old-time friends, at the plane. It was overcast, but surprisingly calm. By 7:30 AM, we were in the air. No drama, and not even a bump. Hmmm… not bad, not bad at all. The plane climbed up to 16,000 feet, from which altitude we admired the beauty of the Sierra. Many landmarks in Yosemite National Park were clearly recognizable. An hour and half later, we landed in Bishop, sunny and warm. It made me suspect that weathermen are pessimists. Oh, did I mention that the landing was the smoothest I had ever experienced in my life? Robert, another friend from our climbing gym, was already waiting for us at the airport. After dumping our sleeping gear at his house in Bishop, we set off for the central Owens River Gorge. We climbed leisurely and by the time, which was around 4 PM, most people were pumped out, I had gotten six wonderful climbs under my belt (see Appendix: Routes and Beta).

I didn’t want to spend too many words talking about climbing because there was something else more important to talk about — the BBQ party at Robert’s house. Tim and Robert took over the kitchen and the grill, and the rest of us provided moral support while constantly nibbling here and there. This was one moment when I wished I had learned English as my native language — my vocabulary fell short in describing how delicious the grilled salmon, tuna, shrimps, and assorted vegetables were. Well, actually I was too busy eating to describe anything. We even had a cherry pie as dessert! A hot shower washed away a day’s sweat before I crawled into my bed. Can a climbing trip get any better than this?

I rose on Sunday morning feeling that my weekend was already perfect regardless what we would do, or not do, on Sunday. Breakfasting at Kava Cyber cafe, Tim checked the latest weather data and decided that we should get in the air before 1 PM in order to make it back home before the storm front hit the path. Oh, we could even get some more climbing in? That was a bonus! Within 2 hours, I led 3 climbs (see Appendix: Routes and Beta).

At 1 PM, we were in the air as planned. The wind on the ground made me nervous for a little while, but again, the takeoff reassured me of Tim’s skills. We put on the oxygen masks and stayed at 16,000 feet for more than half an hour where the air was calm and clear above the puffy clouds. However, we had to descend into the clouds and rain and gusty wind when we neared the Bay Area. Just before landing, Tim assessed the situation as of 5.10b difficulty. My heart almost jumped out of my throat — “Tim, are you a solid 5.10b leader?” Well, if Tim had struggled, it was not perceivable to me because again it was a perfect landing. (p.s. Later, after having done it and comparing notes, he downgraded it to 5.9.) A little after 3 PM, I was already home enjoying a hot shower.

Two hours later, feeling hungry, I got in the car planning to go get some food from a restaurant 5 minutes away. The car failed to start — I had forgotten to turn off the headlights when I got home. The AAA mechanic jump-started my car and told me to go for a drive for 30 to 45 minutes. I drove on HW101 South not having a destination in mind. It was pouring outside of the car and despite the hard work of my wiper, the rain formed a sheath of water on the windshield. I sat up straight and held my breath, more nervous than any moment during the entire trip. I couldn’t help pondering its implication — you just can’t have it all!

Climbing photos

— I wish I had taken more photos of everyone climbing, but I was too busy climbing. Kevin has taken some very cool photos. Please scroll down.

Hiking down the Gorge.

Tim hugging Heart of the Sun (5.9)

Mei touring Tsing Tao (5.10a) (It’s really a coastal city in China).


Robert and Tim take BBQing as an art, and they sure perfect it.

Tim has to have wine when he cooks. I’m glad that he can do without when he flys.

Excuse me, Kevin, what are you doing? Work is not allowed here.

Flight and View

Hey, it was my first time. I had to take a photo in front of the plane no matter how cheesy the pose looked.

Here is the dashboard. What do you think? I don’t even know which dial or meter to look at.

Somewhere in the Sierra. Sawtooth Ridge is right in the middle of the picture.

The clouds looked so soft.

I think this is Mount Tom. This is the view of it from Bishop. Don’t you want to live there?

I don’t know anything about planes. I just thought the coloring of this one was kinda cool.

Photos from Kevin

A reflection of our plane in the mirror under the right wing. Pretty cook, eh?

Marty Lewis, the author of the guidebook to Owens. They were putting up a route to the left of the Great Wall of China. Back breaking work, it looked like.

The same mountain, Mt. Tom, but it looks more beautiful in Kevin’s camera.

And the same statement goes to this air shot of the sierra.

Appendix: Routes and Beta

I led all these climbs except one (Peking Duck). Worth mentioning (worth bragging). All the routes listed here are bolted.

Route Area Rating Beta
??? b/t Alien Wall & Banana Belt Area 5.8ish Not in the guidebook. Short. On an arete left of route Wedge-O.
Paradise Banana Belt Area 5.9 Not in the guidebook. Put up by Greg Barnes, 130′. 12 bolts. Starts in a corner to the right of Rim Job. Then it moves on to the face to the right of the corner. There is an anchor for another climb, Monsters of Rock, that you can use as an intermediate rappel station.
Scorpion, 1st pitch High Tension Area 5.10b Not in the guidebook. We only did pitch one because the second pitch (5.9) didn’t look very exciting. There is only one roof in the first pitch that requires a couple of 5.10b moves, but protected very well. 7 bolts, < 100′. Right of the climb Sparky Does Power Tower. Starts on the same ledge as Brothers in Arms.
Yellow Peril Great Wall of China 5.10b With a 60 meter rope folded in the middle, the two ends are 4 feet off the ground. Very pleasant route. We managed to make it work with only one rope. The roof is easy if you find the right holds to use.
Tsing Tao Great Wall of China 5.10a It felt more technical than Yellow Peril. I actually felt pumped on this climb.
Peking Duck Great Wall of China 5.10d I top roped off the same anchor of Yellow Peril. A wonderful route. It seems to get a couple of committing moves (on lead) at the crux.
Crowd Pleaser Warm Up Wall 5.8 Good warm up.
Welcome to the Gorge Negress Wall 5.9 The crux is down low.
Ambassadors of Funk Negress Wall 5.10b 125′ (or two pitches). I climbed it in one pitch with one rope and then Tim lowered me to the first belay anchor. I then belayed Tim all the way up and lowered him back down to the ground before I rappelled. This was the fastest way. I learned the trick from Robert yesterday on Paradise, and it worked really well there. However, on this climb, I noticed tremendous rope drag on the second pitch. And the 60 meter rope was barely long enough to go from the first anchor up to the second anchor and down to the ground because of the long second pitch.

While lowering on Ambassadors of Funk, I heard someone shouting “Good job!” I looked around and saw a climber wearing a red helmet, 100 feet away and a few climbs over, waving at me enthusiastically. His words warmed my heart. Brotherhood is the beauty of the climbing community — You’ve never met before and probably will not see each other again, but on the rock, climbers are brothers/sisters.