Touchstone member and Bay area resident, Gulnur Tumbat spent much of the spring 2014 season on Everest this year. She wrote a bit about her experience for the Touchstone blog.
Getting ready for an 8000-meter expedition is a big deal. It is even bigger for someone like me who has a day job and doesn’t get to climb big mountains too often. Extensive financial commitment, months if not years of mental preparation, time off from work, organization of the life left behind including the apartment and the dog etc for 2+ months… In the midst of this craziness, which I am not doing justice here in any way, one has to be physically training really hard.
Professional mountaineers always say the best way to train to climb a big mountain is to climb big mountains. Period. They are wise. But living a rather “normal” life makes it too difficult if not impossible for someone like me to regularly climb real mountains. Now it was my time to go climb Everest. I am an endurance athlete. I run, bike, and rock-climb. I work out 5-6 days a week. Mostly I run long distances. Aerobically I have been in fantastic shape. Yet big mountains are a different story. You need to be strong, really strong.
While searching and trying work-outs to achieve more of that for years in the city, I discovered a boot-camp class very randomly at my climbing gym, which is a full-facility gym with all kinds of classes but none got my attention before. Kristine Rios, the super experienced trainer, knew what she was doing. Proper warm-ups and intense crazy work-outs were capped by proper stretching. I was impressed by how she took every step seriously and paid attention to improper forms if any. She did everything with detail to minimize injuries. Every class she’d come up with something different and interesting for people like me who really wish not to be in a gym. Nothing became repetitive or boring. She has everything for you including some Cross-Fit-like moves without the irritating cultness associated with the name. I was able to observe how much stronger I was getting and felt fantastic after only the first 6-months. I am thankful to her for that.
My toes dangled over the ledge. I pushed against the tiny sidewalk and shuffled with my back against the wall, staring at the 2,000 foot drop. I fought into a chimney at the end of the narrow “Thank God Ledge.” A few more feet and I’d be done being scared, I hoped.
In June of 1957, Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas made the first ascent of the The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Using pitons and tenacity they fought their way up one of the greatest technical rock climbs of the time. The large granite dome remains one of the more difficult rock climbs in Yosemite and an excellent challenge for rock climbers.
The previous day, while I rested and enjoyed riding my bike around the Valley loop, Christina Freschl, a Bay Area teacher and Touchstone crusher, attacked the Cedar Eater, a notorious offwidth boulder problem near Happy Isles. The wide climbing did little to deter the Oakland teacher's psyche and the next morning we biked towards Mirror Lake at 5 am.
I spent the first two hours complaining about the hike as we marched to the base of Half Dome via the infamous Death Slabs. The trail features a number of fixed ropes and requires hiking through a gully. A large white scar on Half Dome taunts climbers hiking up. About a decade ago, a few thousand pounds of rock came off the formation and smashed into the gully, nearly killing two climbers on their way down. I kept complaining and hiked faster to the base.
A small spring runs seasonly at the base of the route and we filled our water and hydrated. Christina took off on the initial pitches, leading the first large chunk of the climb. The route follows alpine rock with difficult route finding through a short bolt ladder and cracks to a large traverse section. I grabbed the rack and hustled through. Christina had been on the lead for nearly four hours.
We swung across a series of bolts, climbed a long section of chimneys and kept pulling on gear through the steep Zig Zags. I wanted to climb the route to scope the potential of free climbing the formation later this year. I realized that I was awfully tired from all the hiking and though the Zig Zags were quite good, the hiking left something to be desired. We continued along the top across the infamous Thank God Ledge. I left my aiders on the ground and pulled on gear when I felt like the free climbing was too hard. We topped out the formation in eight hours. As soon as we began the descent, I started complaining about the hiking.
At the base, a squirrel had attacked my pack, despite my hiding it under rocks. I should have hung it in a tree. We had lost our precious chocolate and nut trail mix. Christina remained in good spirits but I complained as we hiked down the trail. We reached the base in the early evening and celebrated by going to the Ahwahnee bar for dinner. We ate hungrily. Christina headed back to the Bay area the next morning to climb in Tahoe for the weekend and I returned to toiling in Yosemite.
Climbing the route was an awesome adventure with a good friend. Christina got a chance to learn a bit more about jumaring, moving fast over varied terrain and climbing efficiently and I got to complain about the six hours of hiking to the eight hours of climbing we did. And have a great time!
The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sombrero, a Touchstone Climbing sponsored down hill mountain biking team recently raced the first round of the Oregon endure series held at Hood River. Enduro, popularized in a last few years, is a race format that involves timed downhill stages taking between 3-8 minutes each and untimed transfer stages involving the majority of the climbing. After 2 days of racing and 8 stages, the lowest combined time reins supreme. A few of the team members spoke about the race.
Wow! All I can say is what a race! Driving 8 hours on Thursday and another 2.5 hours to arrive at the Hood River Enduro on Friday around 11:00 was a speedy trip. I did not know what to expect from an endure race. Having raced downhill races, cross country races, dual slalom, and super D I had a little bit of a background to racing but I didn’t know how I was going to tackle 8 stage races within two days! Friday we got shuttled up to the top of the mountains behind Hood River and followed other riders to the beginning of stage 1. We got a little confused and lost but ended up riding stages 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8. By the end of just the first shuttle run, all three of us were pretty dead tired and didn’t feel like going back up to ride stages 3 and 4 deciding to save our energy for race day tomorrow. Saturday came and so did the race excitement! Going into the first stage I decided to hold back just a bit thinking I was going to not be able to recover my strength between stages and saving some for the last stage. I was wrong. I learned I could go all out each stage and be able to recover pretty much 100% in between stages. On stage 2 I got a flat tire but that didn’t slow me down; I peddled it out to the end of the stage and quickly changed my flat. Stages 3 and 4 we ran blind having not practiced on them. Stage 3 I got a good time but stage 4 I ended up crashing, bending my handlebars, brake levers, and seat! Stage 4 wasn’t a proud moment. All in all, the first day of racing enduro I learned a lot: you can ride as fast as possible and be fully recovered by the next stage and to peddle every chance you get!
Sunday came with a new mentality: ride fast and be dead tired after each stage. We rode all stages for Sunday and I knew that they were more downhill oriented which gave me a bit of an advantage having raced downhill quite a few times in the past. The first race of Sunday, Stage 5 was a long one but very fun! Stage 6 had a very steep section that felt like home to me on the bike; steep is where I gain speed! Stages 7 and 8 were both very fast and I ended up finishing 22 out of 50 riders for the entire Hood River Enduro Expert Men 19-39. I’m very satisfied with my results and added onto my bicycling racing experience. I can’t wait to ride my next enduro race knowing what I’m in for.
The race was great fun; the whole vibe of the event was low key, and surprisingly Happy-go-lucky. The whole thing felt like a long ride with friends. That said, the expert men 19-39 field was fast, very fast. With lots of mistakes throughout the 2 days including 2 pedal ejects on rock sections, 2 off track excursions, and thinking stage 6 ended 800 feet before it actually did, meant I had to settle for a 27th. But cold beer on tap, and free lunch helped sooth the fact that my compatriots beat me. On to the next one!
The first Oregon Enduro Series was definitely one of the most fun races I've ever competed in. Probably the most epic part of the race were the trails at Hood River. I had never ridden there before, so showing up to race on unknown territory was a little scary. What we found were trails that were similar to those of our home territory in Marin County. There was ton of flow, some sweet techy sections, and a lot of fast and dry corners. My favorite stage probably had to be the first one- the first half of it was super dry corners with tons of rocks. After a harsh little climb, you then went into a super fast flow section that shot you out into the finish, creating a fun ending to the race- I ended up in 5th on this stage. I'm super pumped we made it out there to the first Oregon Enduro Series and I definitely plan on competing in at least one more this summer. The whole enduro scene is pretty amazing and very chilled out, making it an epic experience each race day.
Finding a good climbing partner can be challenging. There’s quite a few people wandering around the climbing community looking for partners. Most of them are great and awesome to climb with but there are a few people who might not be so fun. To weed these people out just look for a few tell tale signs:
1. They have four notches on their Gri Gri- one for every time they’ve dropped someone. If you miss the death marks on their belay device, these partners also have a tendency to spray about their past four hours of accident free climbing.
2. Their quick draw selection looks like this:
3. They insist on bringing new X4 cams, two dozen biners weighing less than 24 grams each, a double wide portaledge, two grade VI haulbags, a poop tube and an 80 meter 9.2 lead line on a bouldering trip to the gym.
4. They wear a stop watch around their necks and discuss the time splits between putting on their left and right shoe. These climbers have a tendency to yell, “GO! GO! GO!” when you’re putting on your harness.
5. They spot you by grabbing their iPhone and yelling “If you break your ankle now, you’ll be famous on Instagram!”
6. They ask if they can climb on your rope. Then they ask if they can use your draws, your rack, borrow your back pack, if you have extra shoes, what snacks you brought to the crag, how much money you make and when they can move in to your house.
7. While talking about 5.14, V15, new El Capitan free routes and their trip to Gasherbaum V, they drop names like Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Ryan Moon and Vanna White.
8. They show up at the crag without a rope and then insist it’s ok. They start climbing and then insist you follow them shouting, "It's no big deal, I've only fallen soloing once."
9. They throw trash around the crag, they never clean up their dogs poop, they make random tick marks all over the rock even on routes that are nowhere near where they are climbing and they blast Miley Cyrus on their stereo every chance they get.
10. They ever say this:
Jay Simpson, a Touchstone Climbing Member and National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee, is currently on a hiking and biking expedition across Oregon and Northern California, retracing the tracks of Oregon’s famous Wolf OR-7. Wolf OR-7 attracted international headlines as the first wild wolf in California since 1924. The Wolf OR-7 Expedition is retracing his GPS route across Oregon and Northern California to explore human and wolf coexistence and the challenges wolves face returning to their historic rangelands. We caught up with him by email this week.
Q: Where are you now and what are you up to?
Jay: This morning I woke up for an early morning trip up to the rim of Crater Lake to see the sunrise—it was a great way to close a six-day section of cycling that has taken us most of the way across Oregon. At this very moment, I’m eating all the breakfasts foods I can manage at the lodge, taking a last grasp at wifi, and packing up for four days of walking the Cascades along part of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Q: What has happened during the expedition so far?
J: Well, my biggest highlight comes at the very start of the trip when we found the tracks of a wolf in fresh snow of the Wallowa Mountains. They were huge, and luckily heading in the opposite direction from our route. My favorite thing about them was being able to walk along side the tracks for about 4 hours as we continued to walk along our planned route. Our entire mission has been about walking 1,200 miles in the tracks of Wolf OR-7, but here we were able to literally retrace the path of a wild, lone wolf in the mountains—mind-blowing.
We’ve also been able to have some great conversations with the state biologist who gave Wolf OR-7 his GPS radio collar, a rancher, a hunter, a National Parks Ranger, and others to hear what they have to say about Wolf OR-7 and the return of wolves to areas they haven’t been for decades.
Q: Has anything really surprised you?
J: I loved seeing and learning about the shared use of some objects like stop signs in forests—we use them to know when to stop, but many animals use them to scent mark and gnaw on. My favorite was a stop sign in a National Forest that tons of sign of bear activity. It had bite marks all over and fur stuck in the splinters from bears rubbing their backs against it. It’s their version of a status update to their friends in their forest, I just got to notice it.
Q: And what’s been your biggest challenge so far?
J: We’ve had some really long cycle days, with lots of sandy/dusty roads, overgrown jeep tracks, huge hills, and goat head thorns that lead to about 30 flat tire repairs. That day was hell in the movement, fun looking back at now. We thought it would be an easy early morning ride (3 hours max) but it took over nine. We’ve carried our lunches and bike lights with us every day since then.
Q: What did you to train or prepare for this?
J: There’s so little you can really do to prepare for month-long, high-endurance expeditions other than be as active as possible. Before I left, I was at Mission Cliffs, Berkley Ironworks, or the Dogpatch multiple times a week so that I could climb, do yoga, cycle training, stair masters or anything else whenever I could. My favorite was a core class that I took at Berkley Ironworks. It was a lot of yoga-inspired exercises, but had a great pace and a challenge-by-choice style of difficulty. My first class I received a lot of tips from an older lady who was in their killing it and now I can do them out here on the trail in the morning for warm ups.
Q: What’s upcoming for the expedition?
J: For the next week and a bit we will be cycling and backpacking across areas of Northern California, getting as far south as Mount Shasta. It’s exciting to be entering California, where Wolf OR-7’s story received so much attention after becoming the first wild wolf in the state in nearly 90 years. He spent a lot of time down there too, so I really can’t wait to get down there to try to figure out why did he stop there? Also, we’ll be ending near Ashland, Oregon on June 14th, and I’m really looking forward to being a little closer to the areas of Oregon where he, his likely mate, and potential pups are hanging out. After spending so much time retracing his route, I feel like there’s an interesting kinship to him now!
Do you ever wonder what it's like to live on the road full time? To climb every day? For some this is only a dream. For Touchstone blogger James Lucas this is reality. For the last five years, James lived out of his Saturn station wagon, climbing and traveling. The Saturn recently died and now he's holed up in a cave in Yosemite, climbing fiendishly on El Capitan and trying to live a life on the rocks. Check out the short story that Cedar Wright made about the climber.
In late April five members of the Touchstone’s family ventured to Colombia for a little adventure and a healthy dose of climbing. Justin Alarcon the manager of Dogpatch Boulders, Lauryn Claassen the director of Social Media and Marketing, and Ryan Moon from the Berkeley Ironworks team were joined by Justin’s wife Becky and longtime member and friend Eric Vergne. Justin, Lauryn, and Ryan offer some insights into their travels.
How’d this trip come about?
Ryan: After pretty much committing to a trip to Kentucky's Red River Gorge, I bumped into a BIW member friend of mine (Camilo Lopez) who had just returned from Colombia. He mentioned the price of the plane ticket, how far the US dollar goes, and last, but not least, the adventure.
Lauryn: You know [when] people are talking about a trip, but nobody is pulling the trigger... it's just not meant to be. After Ryan ran into Camilo tickets were booked within the week. I love spanish, collecting passport stamps, and trips that include exploring new cultures along with climbing.
What did you know about Colombia before departing?
Justin: Aside from a little soccer history and a dangerous reputation, not much. Of course I researched the climbing as best I could before we left but there is not a ton of information out there. A few videos and trip reports, but that’s it really.
Ryan: I literally had very few expectations. The general lack of information I had about Colombian climbing had me feeling pretty in-the-dark about the experience as a whole. However, I knew whom I was traveling with (awesome girlfriend + great friends) and that Colombia had become MUCH safer than it's reputation suggests.
How were you surprised on the trip?
Lauryn: I was surprised by how friendly every. single. person. in Colombia was. EVERYONE. People would just ignore you and let you go about you day, until the moment that you stopped to ask for directions or needed help. Then they would go out of their way to help you out. I was also surprised how safe I felt. Walking down the street in the booming metropolis of Bogota or the small town of Sesquile, it didn’t matter. This country is amazing and everyone should go and feel bad about thinking it's a dangerous place.
Ryan: I forgot what 9,000 feet of elevation felt like. I had heard that Colombians were super nice, but they even were nice than that. Unfortunately, unpleasantly surprised at how lack luster the food was. Although it wasn't "terrible", sampling local cuisine on travels abroad is one of my favorite things to do. I can eat chicken and french fries back at home.
Justin: We did have two amazing meals in Bogotá.
How did you like the climbing? What would you recommend to other climbers looking to travel to Colombia?
Justin: We spent all of our climbing time in Suesca. The rock quality was great, but lines weren’t worth writing home about in my opinion. Unfortunately, due to the short duration of our trip and a combination of lost luggage and poor planning we weren’t able to check out some of the many other areas in Colombia that, in my opinion, look far better than Suesca.
Ryan: The climbing was, dare I say "fun". Unless I'm cleaning boulders, it's not very easy to get me on a rope. Although a lot of the climbs were pretty short by sport climbing standards, this made switching gears into endurance mode a wee bit easier. It seemed like most of the climbs were fairly easy moves separated by hard-ish boulder problems and get-everything-back ledge rests. While quality of rock was high, quantity was low. I most likely will not be revisiting Suesca (the climbing area) having done most of what I can do.
Lauryn: If you're going to go on a climbing trip to Colombia, you should bring gear. We only brought sport gear by accident, but we needed cams too.
What were some non-climbing activities you would most recommend?
Lauryn: Museums! Bogota! Lake filled with gold! Practicing Spanish! Watching soccer! Buses!
Justin: Plan to spend at least part of your trip in Cartegena. Take the gondola to the top of the mountain in Bogotá for amazing views of the city and get your picture taken on the back of an alpaca.
Ryan: Check out the Botero museum — best paintings of chubby people ever!
Did anyone eat any bad empanadas?
Justin: Two of us caught a belly demon towards the end of the trip.
Ryan: Bring extra underwear.