Recognized as one of the premier cycling events in America's West, The Death Ride tours California's Alps. The five pass ride includes 129 miles and 15,000+ feet of lung busting climbing. This summer, Touchstone cyclist Deborah Georges completed the brutal race through the Lake Tahoe region. She wrote a bit about the event for the Touchstone blog.
Bikers climbing over Monitor Pass
First off, if you love bicycling and are looking for a difficult yet doable challenge, the Death Ride is for you, and a must! This was my second time riding in this "exclusive" bicycling event! What draws me most to the Death Ride is that it allows me as a competitive athlete to realistically evaluate how fit I really am, how much power I can generate on my own accord over long distance, and how tough I am mentally to keep my body moving when the going gets unbearably rough.
The Death Ride is a chance in a lifetime experience. Located in Alpine County/the Lake Tahoe Area, the natural environment and breathtaking scenery stand in sharp contrast to urban/city living. Completing the entire 129 mile course entails riding 5 extremely diverse and not-so-easy mountain passes: Monitor Pass (front and back), Ebbetts Pass (front and back), and Carson Pass. Each Pass has a character all its own, making the Death Ride an awe-inspiring, life-changing, unique athletic experience.
The downside of the Death Ride derives from accommodation logistics. Markleeville, where the Death Ride starts and ends, is sparse in lodging accommodation. Because of this, many riders either stay in Gardnerville, Nevada where economy motels are a plenty and yet entail a 45 minute transportation drive to the start come ride day, or vey like heck to reserve a camping site nearby. To manage my personal stress, I chose to park my Toyota Rav4 on route 89 in front of Turtle Rock Park, Headquarters of the Death Ride, and camp inside my vehicle. This is the ideal situation. It makes no sense to go to a motel, when one can easily erect a tent or sleep in one's vehicle free-of-charge right at the start!
Start times for the Death Ride vary according to a rider's desire. I personally did not want to start off in the dark so I chose to get on the road at the break of dawn slightly before 5:00 a.m. That said, slower or more ambitious riders opt for a 3:00-3:30 a.m. start with the more popular start option commencing between 4:00-4:30 a.m.
Monitor Pass is an ideal route to begin the course. Its road is wide, open on both right/left sides, and not particularly steep. I enjoyed "warming up" on Monitor to get my "climbing legs" primed. The backside descent to Topaz rest stop is fast, technically "moderate" in terms of difficulty, and overall what I label "a joy ride"! Beware, it gets unexpectedly windy flying down Monitor Pass. Regardless of how warm the temperature might seem, the knowledgable rider dons a wind jacket to keep from shivering prior to making the long descent!
With two mountain passes notched on one's belt, the next challenge becomes the majority of a cyclist's favorite - Ebbetts Pass. Quite distinct from the openly expansive Monitor Pass, Ebbetts is more introverted in the sense that it lies within a forest of sorts surrounded by subtle creeks, calming burbling waters, and aesthetically beautiful tall-trunk trees that indisputably have been digging their roots in the earth's soil for centuries. I encountered absolutely no difficulty climbing Ebbetts Pass quickly, descending the back side swiftly to Hermit Valley, and then climbing back up to the top in order to make a very fast descent to the rest/lunch stop at Wolfcreek by 11:10 a.m.
Wolfcreek lunch stop is pleasurable because it affords one the opportunity to mingle and exchange riding stories with other cyclists. I lunched at a table full of guys who interacted with me and with each other in an enjoyable "we're in this together" way!
With four mountain passes tucked securely behind me, I now faced the final "dreaded" Carson Pass. In defense of Carson which largely gets a negative rating from the majority of riders, I came to understand this time around what really sours me from what otherwise would be a positive response to this particular Death Ride pass. Carson, sadly, is not beautiful or aesthetic or naturally attractive. Located on a well trafficked motor vehicle county road, the asphalt is torn up in many parts making it impossible for a cyclist to hold a straight line. In terms of coverage from nature's elements, there is none to speak of. The route up Carson Pass to the end rest stop of the Death Ride is wide open making cyclists extremely vulnerable to the sunshine and heat. Simply put, it's not a particularly memorable experience one will opt to talk about with family and friends in a positive tone after the Death Ride is completed. Knowing that Carson Pass was going to be the most physically challenging for me after having successfully ridden 94 incredibly breathtaking and delightful miles, I determined to reach deep inside myself to tap the final reserves I had left to make it to the top of Carson in strong form!
Indeed, I made it! I accomplished my goal of completing the Death Ride without the Death Ride beating me! At the Carson Pass final rest stop, I ate the traditional ice cream sandwich with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The ladies "manning" the finish line, hugged and congratulated me not only for having successfully finished, but more so because I was the fifth woman to get to the top shortly after noon among the larger majority of men who dominated the 2014 Death Ride! It's both sad and incomprehensible to me that more women don't aspire to taking on the challenge of the Death Ride. With determination and training, the Death Ride is doable for anyone. It's a chance in a lifetime open to all!
Riding the final 21 miles back to my car stationed at Turtle Rock Park after an exhilarating descent from Carson Pass rest stop, I was astounded to find that I had completed the 129 mile end-to-end course in 8 hours and 42 minutes! If memory serves me correctly, I had completed my first Death Ride saddle time in 9 hours 55 minutes. Imagine knocking off an entire hour two years later the second time around! Woot woot - pom poms furiously shaking!
I wish to thank my sister Wendy, for always standing by me and encouraging my athlete endeavors, my Berkeley Ironworks/Touchstone spinning buddy Marty Kaplan, for both teaching and educating me on how to be a safe and skillful descender, and Pat Ross, an extraordinary competitive cyclist whom I highly admire and would gladly trade places with in terms of strength, skill and ability! These three individuals have served me the most over the years in bringing out the best of me in terms of my athleticism.
Cheers to all, happy safe riding, and get your asses over to the Death Ride at some point - you won't regret it!
While many find the Climber’s Book of Etiquette to be thin and flimsy, the actual nuances of proper climber behavior are plentiful and important. A faux pas at the crag can mean the difference between getting helpful beta from locals or having them throw rocks at your head. The majority of climbing etiquette comes down to basic courtesy, safety and genial human behavior. For those that need a few extra hints, below are a few extra tips.
Fun times at Cathedral outside of Las vegas
Minimize Your Impact
Picking up Clif Bar wrappers, climbing tape, and keeping chalk in your chalk bag remain the basic essentials of crag etiquette. Tiny bits of tape easily escape people’s fingers and back packs. As do old tape gloves. When leaving the crag, sweep through and pick up the little bits of debris, the ends of the rope, the banana peels, and other trash. Showing up and leaving trash everywhere is what people do at their parent’s house. It’s unacceptable at the crag. Carefully dispose of human waste. Never use the bathroom underneath a route or boulder problem. That just stinks. When arriving at a climbing area, keep from throwing your crash pads, back packs, and ropes in the vegetation. Stay on trails when hiking to and from the climbing zone. Protecting the climbing area will ensure that people welcome you back.
Turn Down The Volume
Many climbers head to the crags to escape the loud grind of their daily lives. Noise remains one of the most over looked forms of crag pollution. From bumping the latest Miley Cyrus twerking hit to screaming beta, loud climbers affect the people around them. If you want music at the crag, wear headphones. Providing tips on how to do a move on a route can be helpful but screaming them across the wall annoys everyone around you. Know when your beat spray is unsolicited. Not every climber wants to hear the nuances of the route you’ve been projecting for five years. Unless you’re sport climbing at the Virgin River Gorge, where the sound of sound of a four lane highway and jackhammers will drown your screams of “Mono, mono, gaston!,” keep the volume to a minimum. Throwing wobblers, emotional temper tantrums, is never acceptable. It’s just rock climbing. Keep the crag peaceful by turning down your volume.
This is a climber's truck that exploded due to excessively loud beta spray. Keep the volume down
Know the Area
Every crag has a specific style and etiquette. At some crags, the locals will scald you for breathing through your mouth in a cave. “It increases humidity!” They’ll scream. Other areas, locals will wonder why you forgot to bring the circus of pads, videographers, and production assistants. Know the history of the area and who the locals are. Treating the locals with respect helps avoid problems. Also, be especially considerate when making a first ascent. Gluing, cleaning rock, and bolting are all hugely important to the local community. The majority of climbing guides contain a section on local ethics in the introduction. Read these tiny nuggets and they’ll help you stay out of trouble. Being informed about the area you’re climbing at will help minimize social blunders.
Ron learns a little about batting practice after a lengthy discussion of local ethics.
Consider Other Climbers
Think about other people climbing on the same routes as you. If you’re out bouldering, put chalk on your hands before you touch the holds. This keeps the rock from getting greasy after you finished your salami sandwich. Brush the holds after you climb and erase tick marks. Most people like the adventure of deciphering a climb. Tick marks can be confusing and an eyesore. If someone is climbing below you on a trad route, be careful not to drop anything or kick loose works. Keep from rappelling onto their heads. Be as organized as possible when meeting other parties on routes, this will facilitate the process of moving around each other. Pick routes or problems that you will be able to climb quickly and efficiently to avoid congestion on popular routes. Leaving a top rope on a climb all day can be serious poor form. If you have a rope on a route, be actively climbing on it. Also, be willing to share anchors with other parties on nearby routes. Separate your gear as much as possible to avoid problems. Being considerate of other climbers will allow them and you to enjoy the climbing more.
Tyson heads to The Grail to avoid crowds and have a mellow experience.
The most popular routes often have a ton of people climbing on them. If there are other people in line to climb a route, think about trying something different. This goes for climbing long traditional routes as well. Be considerate of the queue. Climb the most popular routes on weekdays to avoid crowds. Climb something different if there are people already on the route. Avoid congestion at the warm-ups by starting your climbing day early. If you decide to climb a route with another party on it, be patient. The climbers ahead of you have the right of way. Keep from chatting too much with the belayer as this often causes them to lose focus and could lead to an accident. Enjoy the outdoors and be patient while you’re out climbing.
Hayden relaxes on a weekend, going for a bit of a later start to the crag to avoid the crowds.
Control Your Junk Show
Having three crash pads, two stick brushes, and eight chalk buckets directly below the start of a boulder problem aggravates everyone who wants to climb. Keep your climbing gear orderly and in a central location. Keep control of your junk show. If you bring an animal to the crag, make sure your pet is leashed and on good behavior before you take them out. Dogfights at the crag stink for everyone involved. There can be vet bills and general chaos from the fights. If you’re dog is nosing around in other climber’s gear, tie it up. I’ve seen dogs eat climber lunches. This makes for a horrible situation, as there’s nothing worse than a starving sport climber. They get really angry. Just like with human waste, clean up dog poop at the crag and pack it out. If you’re bringing children to the crag, make sure they are quiet and obedient. Crags are dangerous places with rocks and gear falling constantly. Be careful with your children. Keep a handle on your equipment, your pets, and your children to avoid trouble and irritating other climbers.
They're up with the sun, chain coffee-drinking and working hard to bring you the routes you love to send, project, and crush. 'Touchstone Routesetting' is an industry term for excellence, and each member of the crew brings a little somethin' somethin' to the team. In our ongoing segment, Better Know a Setter, we bring you a closer look at what makes 'em tick. In this weeks installment, we sat down with Wes Miraglio.
How long have you been route setting?
5 years total, 1 year with Touchstone this September.
How did you get into route setting?
My friend, Chris Bloch. Thanks buddy for giving some punk kid a chance to learn.
What is your favorite gym to set at and why?
Dogpatch and LA Boulders. Yeah, the floors and the boards can be heinous at times, but I think the terrain and layout of the gyms are cool.
What are you route setting pet peeves?
Striped bolts and t-nuts. It's the hate.
What is in your route setting bag right now?
Wrench, harness, drill, charger and extra battery, shoes, chalkbags for bolts and regular chalk, headphones, gri gris, jumar and aider, dogging draw, sweatshirt, extra shirt, shorts, phone charger.
What inspires your routes?
I don't know. I just strip and screw for a living. Seriously. I wish I could say "Oh this route inspires this moves or that problem got me psyched to try this" but I can't. I maybe have a thought then forget it. It's kinda bad.
What is your favorite memory setting with the Touchstone Crew?
The Bishop trip last year. Just don't let Flea get a hold of a BB gun...
Where is your favorite place to climb outside?
Anywhere in California really, specifically Bishop and/Tahoe areas. Hueco is cool, but you have to put up with the restrictions and being in Wanda's World and the rangers. Colorado you have to deal with the snow the attitude of the Boulder climbers. Vegas is a shitshow. I'd say California has it pretty much made. Tahoe, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Eastside, and other areas make it hard on other areas.
What is your proudest send?
You mean something I'm proud of? On a rope it's easily "Warp Factor"( 5.13a) at Donner Summit. But whatever. On to the next one.
What is your advice for aspiring setters?
Ask questions, be open to change. And take credit for your not so good routes. Turds happen from time to time. But in reality, don't ask me. I don't know shit.
Taking good climbing photos can be quite difficult. Most professional photographers snap around 100 pictures for every 1 decent shot. They spend days scoping lines they want to shoot, finding climbers and aligning everything. For most of us, taking a good picture of our weekend adventure can be fun enough. A few pro climbers offered up tips on making your climbing pictures just a little bit better.
“Stick with shade or sun but not a mix,” said Eddie Bauer adventure photographer Ben Ditto. Knowing your light helps immensely with photos. Capturing the golden glow of a sunset on the rock makes a low angle slab turn into a beautiful scene but on an even more basic level, stick to one style of light. Mixing exposures creates blown out backgrounds or a difficult to see subject.
Andrew Burr, a Climbing Magazine photographer, offered sage photo advice for me in Indian Creek earlier this year. “Make sure your fingers not in front of the lens.” After getting that basic down, he told me to be prepared for a day of taking pictures. “Make sure your camera is charged before heading up.” Take the time to order your equipment before getting in position to shoot.
National Geographic photographer Mikey Schaeffer offered the advice to use the Rule of Thirds. Placing a grid of 3 x 3 squares on your photo, the subject matter should reach the intersection of these. This creates a greater sense of tension in your pictures. Crop your pictures well for Instagram, Facebook or a framed gift for your mom.
“I want to see the eyes,” said Yosemite photographer Gabe Mange. Capturing your subject's face will add emotion to the scene. Make sure they are looking towards the feature they are climbing. The viewers eyes will follow.
Other good tips include: getting all four limbs and face in a climbing picture. Shoot from above or to the side of the climbing to show where the climber is and what they are doing. Go heavy on the edits. Most importantly, take lots of pictures. Use your SLR, use you’re your point and shoot. Get out there with your iPhone. Snap lots of pictures and you’ll start to make great ones.
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!
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!