Fall Trip Down the Eastern Sierra

A few weeks ago, Lynn had to go to Bishop for work, and we decided to make a weekend out of it. Snow had recently fallen, always a welcome addition to the Eastern Sierra, and we hadn’t been in months.


As we went up Conway Summit, north of Mono Lake, a big bird of prey took off in parallel to the highway, and I pulled over just as it landed in a juniper. We debated golden eagle vs immature bald eagle (tough lot, being immature and bald) – and landed on the latter.


Mono Lake with a long lens.


We spent Sunday in the Happy Boulders, and while there were more cars than we’d ever seen there, all the people were clustered around two or three main boulders. This gal skated up this route after to ripped shirtless dudes were shut down by it. At the top, she asked where the down climb was – so it wasn’t evidently a well-practiced route for her.


Lynn messes around on a fun boulder in the Buttermilks in her new approach shoes.


Me goofing around on an overhanging problem on one of the big boulders.


While Lynn worked, I drove around with the camera, and made it up Highway 168 to snowline – around 7,500 or 8,000 feet.


The view on the drive back north, from near Crowley Lake.


While we were in town, we went to the Craggin Classic, saw a UFO missile launch, spent time at the fantastic Mountain Rambler Brewery and hung out with some of Lynn’s friends. Bishop is one of my favorites, and getting down their in cool fall weather reminded me why, once again.


Our Own Worst Enemies

I chuckle every time I read mountain bikers grousing about the Sierra Club, backcountry skiers complaining about losing parking to Caltrans or climbers losing access to evil private land owners.

Not because these aren’t real problems – access for these sports is an ongoing struggle. But it isn’t environmentalists, the government, property owners or even equestrians that are our worst enemies. We are.

I’m talking about backcountry skiers cutting down trees. Or climbers littering in the Buttermilks, or also chopping down trees. Mountain bikers? We really can’t get out of our own way, skidding trails in every video, miles of poorly designed illegal trail or the perception issues surrounding the Redbull Rampage.

And yet so many take to the internet to complain about the forces that be ruining our sports. The real forces are those who show up, participate. Work with trail stewardship groups, land trusts or the Access Fund.

The picture TAMBA posted – click the image to see the Facebook post.

We need that kind of responsibility and leadership if we want progress with land owners and policy makers. Tantrums aren’t going to do it, and illegally cutting down trees will only set us back.

Recently the Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association wrote: “‘Quit sanitizing the trails’ is a common online cry, usually by people rarely seen at trail days. Here’s our latest section of trail built on the Stanford Rock reroute we’ve been working on this summer. Safe, sustainable, and challenging, but not sanitized.” on Facebook.

I think that post speaks volumes about the two types of people in these outdoor sports, and in life in general.

The organizations like TAMBA that can make a positive changes are out there. The fruitful partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service and other property managers are being made. We just need to chip in and participate. Unfortunately, some of us may need to get out of our own way first.


Save Donner Summit Climbing

The Truckee Donner Land Trust and the Access Fund are working to preserve the world-class climbing on Donner Summit, click here for the details and to donate.

Me climbing on Green Phantom, Donner Summit. Photo by Sylas Wright.

Me climbing on Green Phantom, Donner Summit. Photo by Sylas Wright.

You can get all the details in the link above, but the short version is – the private property surrounding Black Wall, one of the key climbing areas on the summit, is up for sale, and the Truckee Donner Land Trust and Access Fund want to not only insure it stays accessible by purchasing it, but also set up partnerships with Caltrans, US Forest Service and Union Pacific Railroad to keep all climbing on Donner Summit open and accessible to the public.

This is really an amazing chance to do something great. Countless climbers roped up for the first time on Nursery School Crag, learning the basics by toprop on the warm, sloped slab of granite feet from the car. For others Donner Summit was the first step in progression, maybe a first multi-pitch climb up Kindergarten Crag, bouldering at Grouse Boulders or getting harder and harder grades sport climbing, trying crack climbing or slab climbing. Donner Summit is where climbers do their first climb, then spend a lifetime perfecting their sport. Learn more about Donner Summit climbing here.

Smith Rock, Oregon

I unzipped the upper edge of the frosted door of my camping tent, looking out across widely spaced juniper trees and low green ground cover permanently stunted by high desert life, and Smith Rock jutted up before me.

It was cold, too cold to emerge from the down pile Lynn and I had collected in the tent, so I burrowed back down and waited for the sun to do a little more work. We listened to geese honks echo off the canyon walls.

We were here, just north of Bend, Oregon, on an impromptu trip put together in part by a few site visits Lynn had to make for work and some unexpected free time I found on my hands. We had swung through Sacramento, spent a warm weekend in Point Reyes, stayed in I-5 side motels under a tarnished silver overcast in the northern Central Valley, and finally popped out in Bend, where we hit the ground, and the breweries, pedaling.

Bend and Tahoe seem to get a lot of cross pollination, and spending time there, it’s easy to see why they attract similar people. Often the same people in fact, as it seems we’re always hearing about someone moving to Bend from Tahoe or meeting someone from Bend, newly arrived in Truckee, Kings Beach or South Lake Tahoe.

We grew impatient, packed up my rope, quick draws, our climbing shoes and harnesses and worked our way down into the canyon. Putting up my first sport lead in some time, we didn’t just take turns climbing – but also standing out in the sun, trying to regain sensation in our fingers and toes.

Driving to Bend each day from Smith Rock, we looked up at the volcanic Sisters and Mt. Bachelor, wishing for more snow, just as we did in Tahoe. We pedaled our mountain bikes on singletrack along the Deschutes River, ducked into local breweries (word to the wise, Crux Fermentation Project may be the best brewery in the world) and wandered around town.

Smith Rock, Oregon

The trip ended too early, and we pointed the flying green toaster south as the first drops of a storm began to fall. So many things left to do – backcountry skiing in The Sisters, swimming in the rivers … even more breweries to sample. I have no doubt we’ll be back again soon.

Climbing Plastic with a Rock Legend

I’ve been writing for my friend and Editor of the Tahoe Quartlery, Kyle Magin, for a few years now. Generally when he picks a story idea and sends it my way, it’s right up my alley, but when he asked me to do a Q&A with Dave Nettle, a local climber and ski mountaineer, I couldn’t type yes and hit send fast enough.

All photos Reuben Shelton or Dave Nettle.

All photos Reuben Shelton or Dave Nettle.

One of the things I’ve really come to love about living in the Truckee-Tahoe area is the outdoors community, and a series of slideshows, put on by Alpenglow Sports, is a shining example of that. I first came across Nettle at one of these slideshows (the series, I later found out, co-founded by Nettle), and I loved his attitude and approach to his world-class climbs, ski descents and adventures.

reuben and dave midway up the asascent of mt asgard

All photos Reuben Shelton or Dave Nettle. Midway up Mt. Asgard, Baffin Island.

To still be at it after 40 plus years, he had to be doing something right, so to get to interview him was an exciting prospect. I reached out, offering the option of a phone interview (which I prefer for spontaneity in questions and answers) or questions sent by email, which many people prefer because it lets them pick and choose their wording in response.

All photos Reuben Shelton or Dave Nettle. Approach to Mt. Loki, Baffin Island.

All photos Reuben Shelton or Dave Nettle. Approach to Mt. Loki, Baffin Island.

Nettle did me one better. He wrote back: “So, for me one of the main incentives to do any interview IS to get a chance to meet someone new and interesting and be able to have a face to face encounter. Let’s do an in-person … We can hit RockSport, climb a bit then grab a beer and kick things around.”

My jaw dropped. As a perpetually novice climber, an opportunity to climb with someone I so admired was once in a lifetime, even if it was only on plastic. Despite a young gym punk trying to correct Nettle on belay technique (I reiterate, Nettle has been climbing over 40 years, and add he is a professional rope rigger), it was a fantastic experience and a great conversation.

Click here to read the Q&A with Dave Nettle in Tahoe Quarterly – Eye to Eye: Dave Nettle

Escape to the Eastern Sierra and Solitude in Yosemite

It’s been pointed out to me that driving three hours to mountains is a little peculiar when I live and work in the Tahoe-Truckee area. But as with many folks around here, the Eastern Sierra has a special draw — one I can only resist for so long. Without a south-bound trip under my belt since June, I found myself hurriedly throwing a sleeping bag and a few other essentials in the back of my car after work, with no clear plan in mind.

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Vicarious adventures on the internet

After making it all winter without catching a cold, I came down with a bug this week to match the snowy June weather. Unable to get outside for adventures myself, I’ve been scouring the internet for vicarious thrills through the adventures of others on the internet, be it travel video, Sierra Nevada climbing video, or backcountry skiing video.

I suppose that’s the benefit of an at-times exhibitionist Facebook-Twitter-Youtube-Vimeo generation that shares everything: Sometimes someone shares something good. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get your outdoor fix when your stuck at home:

1) The Smiley’s project: Climbing North America’s 50 classics

Fifty Classic Climbs of North America from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

A husband and wife living out of a Dodge Sprinter camper van, climbing and camping. Who isn’t jealous? See the rest here.

2) The Love Letter

This one’s gotten around so you may have seen it, and sure, the ending is a little on the nose, but the footage is gorgeous.

3) Yosemite Nature Notes

These have also been around, but they’re beautiful and interesting 5-minute vacations into one of my favorite places on earth. See the rest of them here.

4) 23 Feet

23 Feet Trailer from Allie Bombach on Vimeo.

This one’s a trailer for a movie, but it got me to spend an hour or two organizing my car camping go bags so I can spend as much of my time dirtbagging and boondocking this summer as possible.

5) Sierra Descents

Skiing Whitney’s North Face from Andy Lewicky on Vimeo.

From backcountry skiing Mt. Whitney, the lower 48’s highest peak, to wearing a helmet cam on the cables of Half Dome, Sierra Descents has some cool videos, not to mention his gear reviews and trip reports.

Seeing as it’s still snowing and I’m still coughing, who’s got more recommendations for great adventure youtube videos?