Dan and Cleo were out of the van early to relieve themselves, but they were soon back in bed for a snooze to get us to 7am. By then the sun was shining hard through the windows and Cleo was shaking in anticipation of the squirrels she could have been catching.
Up and ad’em, I started on coffee and a fruit salad while Cleo dug a big hole nearby which reaped no rewards. Dan wrestled with Cleo a bit to get some eye drops into her left eye which was giving her trouble and soon after we left camp on account of the pesky bugs that were getting through our bug spray.
With the Giant loaded on the rear rack and Scottie safely stowed inside, we started our romp past the official campground and into the burnt woods towards Clark Canyon. While I followed the instructions in the guidebook as best I could, we ended up facing a solid fence across the road stating “no climbing access”. I was disappointed. Clark Canyon seemed like it was going to be a great spot, but the stoppage structure was permanent so we turned around.
Approaching the intersection we’d turned off at, we saw another car and so followed it, hoping for a result. Sure enough, we landed at the Clark Canyon parking area. Sweet!
I put sunscreen on just to make us lunch the sun was so hot. By the time I’d finished making us a couple of wraps, the back of my calves were properly warm. Packs on for our day of climbing, we walked along the narrow scrubby path towards Area 13. As soon as Dan got a look at it, he wasn’t happy – the crag was east facing and so fully in the sun. Of course I’d semi-planned where to climb, but the “shady forest” description in the guidebook misled me to overestimate the amount of shade that would be available.
At the crag, there were already a couple of parties set up and so I scouted the length of the crag for a good collection of routes, then for shade. We dropped our stuff at the Left Center crag and there was a nice cave for Cleo to stay cool in but that wasn’t much good for us belayers/climbers.
Dan tried first to set up a shade structure with the hammock, but it was the wrong tool for the job. After scouting some more on the right side of the crag and finding no shaded options, I offered to go back to the car for our tarp. Dan was happy with that offer and so I made a trail run of the path down to the car and back up to the crag. I was out of breath by the time I got back to see Dan and Cleo chilling in the coolness of the cave. Dan got right to setting up the tarp while I watched the clouds that had seemed so distant start coming across in front of the sun. The weather system looked similar to what we’d experienced yesterday – forming over the high altitude mountains, the heading across the valley.
Of course five minutes after we set the tarp up, the clouds gave us shade. That was fine with us, we told ourselves it was because I’d run back down to get the tarp that the clouds had come over. Now it was time to get climbing! Despite the multiple parties at the crag for the weekend, we had this little crag area to ourselves and so we made the most of it.
After my last few lead attempts, I was hoping for better results on this volcanic, bolted rock and I got my wish. Our first adventure was on “Chop Chop” (5.8) which was easy going with plenty of features to play with. Dan was into it as well, happy to have pockets and deep cracks to put his hands in instead of just frictiony slab. Next was “Pachuco” (5.8), an extension of the previous climb.
We felt our first drops of rain while I was near the top of this route and wow was it refreshing. The only other time I’d climbed in the rain (in Thailand), we’d been rained off the cliff in minutes. This was a mere spattering which only served to cool me down. Dan was jealous – by the time he started up Pachuco, the sun was out in full force again.
It was this kind of weather we enjoyed the rest of the day and boy was it welcome. The tarp became less useful as the day wore on and while the spots of rained continued, it was only me who got to enjoy them on the wall while Dan always seemed to be climbing in the sun.
Next we got onto a nice long route called “Bread Line” (5.9) and this is where I really started to enjoy the Clark Canyon routes. The bolt spacing was perfect and the climbing interestingly varied. I hit a snag two thirds up this route when after moving my hand from a nice horizontal crack, a wasp peeked out and decided it didn’t like me. He flew and ducked around me and after a minute of attempting to fend him off while staying on the rock, he bit me on the arm and so I called for Dan to take up the slack, which he did, then I sat to continue my fight with him. Then the bugger stung me in the stomach and so I decided my best bet was to climb on past him. Dan gave me slack and I flew up the next few bolts of the route, keeping an eye out for my latest enemy and thankfully outrunning him.
I set my anchor at the top and marked the wasp spot with a unique quickdraw on my way down so Dan wouldn’t meet the same fate as me. The bites still stung as I came back down, but they soon became minor irritants.
Once again in the sun, Dan climbed “Bread Line” and avoided an interaction with the wasp. I ate my lunch as he cleaned the anchor and came down, joining Cleo in the cool cave.
With only a 5.10a left on our little crag to interest us, it was still in full sun so we moved over to the Right Center area for our afternoon climbs. While heading over to confirm the cliffs were going into shade, I got talking to a couple from LA who’d been having a similar week to us – climbing in different spots and hanging out at Rock Creek Lake as we’d done a few days before. They were climbing in the area I was scoping out but they were happy to have us as guests.
We moved camp and judging from the clouds in the sky, figured we didn’t need to set up the tarp. The LA couple were on a 5.7 route to the left so I got started up “Nice Guys Finish Last” (5.9) which was a tall route that required a top belay and double-rappel. Dan was comfortable leaving Cleo down at the crag alone and so I started up the 50m route. It was a stunner – this rock just kept on giving – and once again I got a few drops of rain as I neared the anchor.
I top-belayed Dan while looking out over the valley and out to the Mammoth mountains in the distance where the weather was brewing. Barely a minute after Dan left the ground, we heard our first clap of thunder. Of course, Cleo tucked her ears and freaked out, heading straight over to the half of the LA couple that was on the ground for safety. From up on the wall, Dan apologized but our new friends said he loved pitbulls and would guard her from the thunder, promising to cover her if it started to rain.
I pegged the route as our best of the day and Dan agreed. I was stoked to greet him at the top of the climb, seeing a big smile on his face. We worked seamlessly then to simul-rappel to the first set of anchors. Needing to both throw a coil of rope, Dan took me to school throwing perfectly each time while I managed to get my rope tangled and stuck in the cracks below. We sorted everything out together and rappelled down in perfect sync to a snoozing Cleo. We’d waved goodbye to the LA crew at the lower anchor and so Cleo had the place to herself.
It was now mid-afternoon and I could tell Dan was almost ready for camp, but I had more energy in me. We contemplated the 17-bolt 5.10a back at our previous crag but we didn’t want to bother with a camp shift so I got onto “No More Mister Nice Guy” (5.8), starting on the 5.10a direct start. The 10a direct was a pleasure and I was happy with the pressure of climbing down low, then enjoyed the walk-in-the-park grade above it.
Towards the top of the route, I was confused at the anchor’s location so Dan consulted the guidebook for me and I wasn’t sure I had the rope length to rappel back down to the intermediate anchor. Once safe at the top of the route, I contemplated my options and shouted down to Dan that it would be much easier for me if he climbed the route. I can’t remember what he said, but it was essentially, “What? Why?” Ok, all good, I’ll figure it out. As I pulled the rope up, I thought about what I was going to have to do and Dan confirmed that my rope length was enough so I calmed down a little. When I tangled my rope as I threw it down, then got it completely stuck in a crack, I became a little less calm. Whatever, I took it slow going down, wrapping the rope around my leg more than once to take stock and make sure I was comfortable taking my gear out and getting to the intermediate anchor. I figured it out in the end, got my rope free and came down safely to the ground where Cleo looked completely dead and Dan so sleep he wasn’t far behind. We’d all had a great time climbing, but Dan had hit a wall so we called it a day. We had -7*C beers in the fridge waiting for us.
The crag was quiet as we descended back to the car and thanks to some text messages I’d received from Dan’s Mum, we talked the whole way down about our upcoming trip to Hawaii.
Back at the car, we had cold beers in our hands within seconds and were started on our second round by the time we pulled out and started romping back into the forest. Only two things on the agenda for the rest of the day: a dip in the river and camp.
The first came a short walk down a path from the established campground where we had the rushing river to ourselves. I was the only one game thanks to the freezing water and despite the cold, it was good to rub a bit of soap on my body and get clean. Back at the car, we were excited to watch an Austrian GP post-race show so Dan worked his magic on the winding forest roads to find us an isolated camp with service.
Home. I cooked up some Kung Pao Chicken and we sat outside to watch our F1 show until the service dropped out and we retreated into the van for a relaxed evening.
We had an alarm set for 6:30am so we could get to a crag called Al’s Garage super early and climb in the morning shade. The plan was to climb there until the sun hit the wall, then head back over to Clark’s Canyon where we’d been yesterday for the afternoon shade. Well none of that eventuated. I was up-and-at’em just before the alarm went off but Dan was still enjoying a deep snooze. He looked too at peace to disturb and the sky was filled with clouds so I figured we wouldn’t have to evade the sun as much as we thought.
Around 7:30am we were out of bed and making coffee and breakfast. Cleo got her nose so far down into a squirrel hole that she came back to us with a dirty snout and a look of disappointment.
With a hearty breakfast in our bellies, Dan organized the bikes and we were on our way down the forest roads familiar to us from yesterday’s crag approach.
At Al’s Garage, we could see the crag fully in shade and were the only people in sight. I went into the bush for a bathroom break and unfortunately chose an ant pile on which to do my business on. Thankfully I escaped without any bites from the red ants, but back at the car, Cleo was laying amongst a pile of them. I called out to Dan and he helped me to brush her off, but they were still climbing up her legs so I picked her up and put her back in the car where one lingering ant managed to bight her on her foot. She cried out and set to licking the foot for the next fifteen minutes. Dan copped a bite too and so knew the sting Cleo was feeling.
Dan reparked the car in a less anty spot and I offered to walk up to the crag to make sure we weren’t going to be dealing with these asshole ants all day. It was a steep sandy hike which my Tevas were a little unsuitable for but it only took me about 10 minutes and I didn’t see any ants the whole way.
It was a blissful temperature in the shade of the crag so I was excited for a morning/day of climbing here. As I turned to head back down the trail, I yelled out in surprise when I nearly stood on two bird heads lying on the ground. Feathers, eyes and beak still intact, it was just the heads sitting there. Eeeeewwwww! I grabbed a stick and flicked them off the trail before I head back down to the car. Dan had heard me yell and figured I’d fallen over or something.
We didn’t both making lunch since we were planning to move camps at some point so I grabbed a few snacks and got our climbing gear out while Dan moved the Giant to the front of the car to lock it. This was where our day’s plans went out the window. I asked Dan where the lock was and the look on his face meant that he’d left the chain and u-lock on the outside of the car then drove off. The u-part of the lock was hanging around the antenna, but the chain and locking bar were nowhere to be seen.
Back in the van we got and romped back towards camp. I figured if Dan was confident they’d fallen off at camp we could just leave them there for the day, but he wanted to head back immediately, thinking they could have fallen off anywhere.
As we started up a steep hill we saw a car coming down and so Dan had to backtrack to let them pass. It was three girls and their dogs in a Ford Focus, confidently romping down the hill as they waved to us their appreciation. Onwards and halfway back to camp we saw the chain lying in the middle of the road, covered in dust. That was half of the lost pieces. All the way back to camp, we didn’t see the locking bar. We got out at our campsite and couldn’t find anything so while we kept our eyes peeled on the way back to Al’s Garage, we assumed the locking bar was lost. But then Dan spied it, buried in the road (it had probably been run over by us and the girls in the Ford Focus). It was a little worse for wear but still functioned!
Great! Now to start our day. By the time we hiked up the approach, we were at Al’s Garage around 11am and we had about an hour of morning shade left. We met the Ford Focus girls and their dogs at the crag and so we stuck to the right side and got ourselves set up.
First up was “East Side Days” (5.9) which was a lovely route that got us into the volcanic rock. I experienced the now-standard rain drops on my head towards the anchors and enjoyed the cool off. By the time Dan cleaned the route and came down, we were in full sun and so everything became essentially non-climbable. Armed with my guidebook, I wandered over to the left where the girls were to see if there was any shaded options and no, there wasn’t. In a bout of good timing, they were leaving the crag so we packed up our shit and moved it into a shaded cave where we planned to hang out until the clouds covered the sun again.
We didn’t have to wait long – the storm clouds forming over Mammoth mountain were approaching us at great speed and we were shaded again after about fifteen minutes. Now that we had the crag to ourselves, we climbed on the most popular routes for the crag. The first was “Sound of One Hand Slapping” (5.8) which climbed over an arête, up a vertical pocketed face then to a short-ish anchor. Dan came down from that one with a big smile on his face. We were both enjoying the easy routes and the generously featured rock.
“Aviary” (5.8) was a longer route starting on a face in a corner, then moving out onto the pocketed stuff to finish. It was beautiful climbing – a stark contrast to the granite we’d started our trip with which I hadn’t enjoyed as much. While I was on this route, the thunder started. Good thing Cleo had a cave to hide in!
Three times that afternoon, we heard the unmistakable sound of a tree cracking and falling. Each time, whether we were halfway up the rock or on the ground, we’d look out to spot any motion but each time saw only stillness amongst the forest. We figured that by the time the sound got to us the tree was already on the ground.
We had hummingbirds to keep the belayer company throughout the day – they were sucking the juices out of a red trumpet flower bush. For the first time, I saw hummingbirds at rest. They would take their lunch at a bush, then return to the burnt pine trees nearby to sit and rest. They tweeted away playfully when they weren’t eating, always flying around in pairs, sometimes coming right by our faces with speed!
It was past 3pm when we started on our last route, a 5-star 5.9 route, “Triple Delight” and wow did it earn its 5-star rating. It was the longest route of the day and while it started easily, we both thoroughly enjoyed the moves to get over multiple roofs and bulges. It was a great lead that put me in a very happy mood, I couldn’t stop going on about it as I came down. I kept mentioning to Dan that it was a Sunday afternoon and we had this whole place to ourselves!
Dan fought his afternoon sleepies to get excited for the route and he climbed it well, taking his time to think out his moves before executing them perfectly. He was in happy-town same as me.
We took our time down the sandy slope to the car and were straight into the fridge for some cold beverages. Cleo and I walked off down the road while Dan got himself organized and Cleo was quite happy to trot along with me towards the stormy-looking mountains ahead.
When Dan picked me up in the van, Cleo was happy to carry on and so we followed her along the road until we got to the first junction. I’m sure she’d have happily kept leading all the way to camp but we enticed her into the van for a relaxing romp into the town of Mammoth.
We were in need of some water and supplies so after reaching the highway, we pulled off into the rest area just north of Mammoth to top-up. By now, it was pissing down with rain – really big raindrops too – so we both got wet filling up the water tanks and emptying our rubbish.
In Mammoth, we stocked up at Grocery Outlet, happy to get some bargains, then drove on into town on the hunt for an early dinner and a beer enjoyed outside with Cleo. I had the brewery on the corner of the main junction in mind and when we saw the live music happening in the outside courtyard we were enthusiastic. Our enthusiasm dropped to nothing however when we saw a line for a table and a stacked carpark. Back out the way we’d come, we saw an empty Mexican restaurant and so were excited to take one of their outside tables. Again, our excitement dropped to nothing when Dan perused the menu to see that a light beer was $4.50 and they wanted $3.75 per taco. No thanks, we’d rather be in the forest.
And so we left the ski town behind us and trekked along Sawmill Cutoff – a road which passed by a few very packed campgrounds then turned to dirt and dispersed camping. We tried a few different pull-offs but they weren’t good enough until I directed Dan off the main road and up a hill where we found the best camp of our trip so far. We had 360 degree views of the surrounding mountain ranges, our own private boulder patch and pine trees all around. Dan got onto leveling the car while Cleo and I climbed the boulders for the best view. Wow, just wow.
We could see the highway less than a mile away and were no more than two miles away from a major town where people were paying $200 a night for a hotel room. This was true van life.
We both did our specialties in the kitchen with Dan cooking up a rack of ribs in the oven while I made us an appetizer of fries, cooked to perfection in coconut oil. Better than anything we could have paid for in Mammoth.
Our spot on top of the boulder patch gave us stunning views of a pink sunset sky and I was in bed shortly after with Dan not far behind.
With no particular plans other than a rest day, we didn’t rush to get up. Dan cooked up some delicious French toast while I acted as a lady of leisure, reading in my chair.
We were almost sad to leave camp, such a perfect one it was, but we made our way down the hill to Shady Rest Park, a fairly new development for the Mammoth area. For a Monday, it was a hive of activity, with baseball fields getting chalked, team sports on the green ovals, a full playground and dog walkers abounds. We were here for one thing – disc golf.
Judging by the signage, the course looked brand new and had multiple variations for local’s appeal. Since it was a blue sky day, we were happy for the course to wind through a fairly dense pine forest, keeping us shaded throughout most of the 18-hole course.
Dan was typically playing way better than me, but we all enjoyed wandering through the forest throwing our discs. There were a few holes over 500 ft in length and we soon discovered that it was better to focus on throwing form and accuracy, rather then effort. Every now and then, we managed to set our discs sailing through the trees with grace, but mostly (especially in my case) we were bouncing them off trees and into the dust.
I finished the round about 20+ over par, while Dan was more around 10+. At least he was making par on half the holes!
By the time we circled back to the carpark, we were hungry for some lunch and thought we’d have another go at a paid lunch at a nice outdoor establishment. It was right on noon as we walked up to the Liberty Sports Bar and took up one of the outdoor picnic tables in the shade. I was disappointed about them not having any fries (potato shortage?) but we enjoyed our food while trying to figure out just where everyone was going on their rental e-bikes.
After lunch, we were still in rest day mode and so we sauntered up Lake Mary Road to see if we could find a nice piece of lake to call ours for the afternoon. We naively thought that being a weekday, we wouldn’t have too much trouble. Stupid us. We drove around Twin Lakes, Lake Mary, Lake Mamie and Horseshoe Lake finding only chaos and clutter. Not our idea of an afternoon well spent, we had quick dip at Lake Lake Mary then buggered off back down the hill. We soon discovered where everyone was taking their e-bikes – up and down Lake Mary Road. I didn’t get it. I thought Mammoth had a bunch of singletrack around the mountain bike park but I was wrong. It was mountain bike park, e-bike on tarmac or double track.
As we drove back through town, I used maps.me to take us on a bit of an adventure down a forest road that followed Mammoth Creek. After a few miles of romping down the rocky road, we turned down a dead end to where the map showed the road crossing the creek. At its end, we found a bridge crossing the creek but it was only a footbridge. We parked up in the turn around to have an explore and we found our arvo rest stop at the creek under the canopy of some trees.
It was a gorgeous spot to hang out, build a dam and do some laundry, all of which we did. Dan set Cleo up with a comfortable spot on the bank after she’d cooled off in the flowing water, hanging a shirt up in the tree to give her more shade.
After I’d hung the washing on the clothesline Dan had strung up, we set up our folding chairs so that we were sitting in the water. I read my book for at least an hour but Dan was too restless, the dam we’d built could be improved! He kept pulling up rocks and placing them, digging out our private pool so that it was knee deep – double what it had been when we’d arrived.
Apart from seeing a few riders cross the bridge and campers from the nearby campsite across the creek wandering down to find a fishing spot, we were isolated. It was glorious.
Around 5pm we called it a day, took down our dry clothes and packed out. Hopefully someone will come across it and enjoy it was much as we did. It was better than hanging out at any crowded lake.
Dan offered me the drive of the van then and so with him navigating, we left town and headed back towards last night’s camp. As we looked up towards Mammoth mountain, we noticed a bit of smoke in the air and figured the lightning from the last couple of days must have started something.
After driving into the forest on Sawmill Cutoff, we tried something different, stopping at the end of the neighbouring road. It was a find site, but a little windy and I wanted to find a new camp, despite last night’s being perfect. I think after a rest day I wanted to feel like we’d done something new at least.
Unfortunately we didn’t find any great options along Sawmill and it was slow going thanks to the rolling whoop-de-whoops we had to motor over. When we got to the highway, we could either cross by going over the road or under it through a tunnel. Tunnel! It looked a little short so Dan got out to check our height and we made it through by a few inches. At the second tunnel however, we got to within an inch of the solar panel with the dirt under the tires rising and so backed out of it. Ok, so we went over the highway.
Into another network of forest roads, I drove wherever the wheels took me and thought the place seemed familiar – I think I must have camped somewhere in there when travelling with Mum & Dad. Down another dead end road, we crested to look down over the next valley and we were home.
After straightening the van up, we noticed the noise of choppers in the distance and so walked a few paces from camp to see what we could see. We saw smoke and a lot of it. We were looking at Bald Mountain and it was obvious that the far side of it was on fire. There were multiple choppers hovering near the source of the smoke with the water buckets hanging underneath them. We were close enough to see smoke billowing from the source and then hanging in the air.
With the spot of service we had, we found out it was called the Dexter Fire and had been reported at 9:30am that morning. At last report, it covered 1,000 acres and 50 personnel were currently in response. It was also right next to where we’d climbed the last two days. That meant we definitely wouldn’t be climbing there tomorrow, which had been the plan!
We kept an eye on the fire goings-on as I got dinner started and Dan put an F1 post-race show on in the background. When a big plane flew overhead, Dan told me it was likely going to drop fire retardant around the fire to contain it. Sure enough, after circling the fire twice, he came in very low and dropped the bright red stuff along the crest of Bald Mountain. He did so a second time, with spot-on accuracy.
After that, the fire activity died down a little and by the time the stars started to come out, there was no more billowing smoke and no more activity. We figured they must have sorted it out – it certainly looked like an efficient operation from where we were standing.
Before we got into bed, I took one last look out towards the mountain and thought I could see an orange glow, but it might have just been my imagination.
I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have camped here and to have not been climbing near that fire today.
With tomorrow’s plans foiled, I sat up flicking through our climbing guidebooks and checking weather forecasts trying to figure out where to go next. I’d so enjoyed the recent climbing I was looking forward to another few days but it just wasn’t to be.
We woke up not knowing where we’d end up. Dan had fallen asleep before me last night and so I relayed to him what I’d managed to find out in my guidebook perusing. Owens River Gorge was out of the question with 100+*F temperatures, we didn’t want to be hanging around in Mammoth’s smoke and I wasn’t all that keen to trad climb granite in Pine Creek Canyon. After a bit of um’ing and ar’ing, we decided to head north to Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe is always an easy go-to for us – it’s a mountain biking and climbing playground that’s pretty close to home and the temperatures were similar to Mammoth’s. We felt good as we hit the road, Dan romping us out of the forest then onto the highway. We hit a bit of roadwork traffic and the skies were still very smoky but the further north we drove, the bluer the skies became.
We stopped for a late breakfast along the West Fork of the Walker River, in a shady park with picnic tables. Dan offered to cook while I blogged and so Cleo and I sat with our back to the highway, watching the river run by after cooling off in it. It was here we decided to ditch the bike rack we’d so recently acquired. No regrets, we were glad to have had the option, but it really was just too cumbersome taking the rack on and off to get to the kitchen. We propped it up by a rock and wrote “free” all over it – hopefully it will make someone happy. With both bikes inside the van again, we carried on.
Stopping only once more to take advantage of cheap petrol at $4.05/gallon (everywhere else it was $5.50+), we enjoyed the scenery up Monitor Pass.
We soon realized that neither of us had approached Lake Tahoe from this road before and it was a stunning climb with nothing but land all around. There were some beautiful alpine camps along the flat peak of the pass and views all around as we ascended then came down the other side.
As we approached Lake Tahoe from the south, I pulled out my climbing guidebook for the area and nothing really tickled my fancy. The crags we’d had a lot of fun at last year weren’t in the book and I wasn’t really in the mood for browsing through Mountain Project. We carried on without a real plan, figuring we’d just hit the lake, find some cell service and make a plan. In trying to remember where we’d climbed and had a lot of fun last year, I realized I hadn’t brought my North Lake guidebook. Shit! I checked my book stash and no, it wasn’t there. That really put me off. What’s worse, after driving into South Lake Tahoe, the only climbing store there didn’t have the book.
We stopped briefly at a farmer’s market for a wander, then backtracked a few miles to a climbing gym where I was able to grab a second copy of the North Lake guidebook. There, good. Still no. In flipping through that, everything seemed too hard and granite-like. My head just wasn’t straight. We’d just left a beautiful area with climbing I was really enjoying and isolated camping and now we were in a tourist-filled crazy town with cars arranged on the side of the road every which way. Why did we think it would be anything different? Dan easily detected a change in my mood and took charge.
He drove us northwards along the California side of the lake and at a couple of potential climbing spots, I sussed out some rocks that would be in afternoon shade, but the crowds made any access impossible. Emerald Bay especially was insane. Silly me (again) for thinking a Summer Tuesday in Lake Tahoe might be quiet.
We got some luck when I spotted a nice looking beach with a few parking spaces which Dan missed, but quickly u-turned to take advantage of. We’d discovered Kaspian Day Use Area and for whatever reason, there wasn’t really anyone around. Maybe it was the lack of bathrooms, ice cream stands, kayak rentals or the rocky beach. We didn’t mind one bit. After cooling Cleo off in the water, I made lunch while Dan set out our chairs on the beach and did some Googling for potential activities.
Lunch was great and Dan found a couple of climbing options on Mountain Project but I was pretty much unresponsive. I was in a funk. We spent about an hour enjoying the shade on the beach, watching the goings on of a commercial lake sailing trip (which didn’t involve the hoisting of any sails) and generally people watching. When I couldn’t come up with any good reason not to climb the nearby Eagle Rock, Dan announced that we should climb there. Yes, good!
We drove barely a mile down the road and followed the Mountain Project instructions to find the small Eagle Rock crag. It was Thailand-esque though looked under-used. With both phones left in the car, there is no photographic evidence of the late afternoon we spent there. I enjoyed it. We climbed a 5.7, 5.9 then top-roped a 5.10b/c in the middle on a shared anchor. The wall was a little dirty and untrustworthy in some places, but they were fun little climbs!
We both really enjoyed the harder route, each of us falling a couple of times before figuring out the moves and reaching the anchor. Dan had to remind me to enjoy the view before coming down, which I did. While there was chaos only meters away, we were tucked away into a private haven and we’d had fun. Funk over. Tahoe is a playground and we were here to play.
Now we were excited to find camp. This was going to be a challenge, but we’re experts and so we embraced it. When we came across a sno-park, we pulled in to suss it out. These served as our regular camps during the winter and so we were curious to see what the go was for Summer. There was a campground host onsite and so I enquired and discovered that yes we could park in the lot, but it would be $21 and we’d be door to door with other vans. He was a lovely guy, but no thanks.
We steered away from Lake Tahoe along Highway 89, following the familiar Truckee River north, passing a crowded Silver Creek campground, sussing out a couple of roadside options, then turned off onto a forest road that wound up a hill. There may have been some no camping signs posted, but we played ignorant and found us a stellar spot tucked away in the trees. We’d found home again. Whatever we get up to tomorrow, it’ll be fun – it doesn’t matter what it is.
I Can’t Breathe?
With only a vague plan for the day, we packed up camp in the morning fairly quickly due to bugs and ventured down to the lake to find a breakfast spot. Dan worked some serious magic and drove us into Robert Pomin Park. Normally the hut at the entrance indicating payment would have turned us away, but Dan had been here before without paying and so we gave it a shot. Yes, all the boat launchers were paying, but if we just wanted to park up, we were free to do so. The hut attendant directed us towards the small carpark and we nabbed the last spot. It was 9:30am and I expect the lot would stay full the rest of the day.
Dan went down to the water to get Cleo wet while I made us coffee and egg sandwiches. The heat was already pretty intense and it was only going to get hotter.
Sandwiches in hand, we meandered down to the pier to watch the boat launching activities. Always good entertainment, we saw all shapes and sizes of boats launch into the water, with a wide range of efficiency. There were people riding jet skis for the first time, boatmen readying their ships and ladies of leisure packing the boats full of booze, floaties and food. We got talking to a lady standing guard with her boat and two dogs. They had a flat battery so weren’t going anywhere, she was waiting for the husband to come back with a charger. She told us all about her Australian travel experiences and the woes of the new boat motor they’d paid a lot of money for. She laughed when we told her she should get a sail.
The rush died down after about an hour since everyone was on the water for the day so we returned to the van. My idea of a 3-mile Cleo mountain bike ride for all of us was a no-go because of the heat and there wasn’t much else we could do with Cleo under the sun, so I planned out a long MTB ride for just me. Dan was happy to chill with Cleo for a few hours at the beach and we planned to do something together in the afternoon after it cooled off.
I geared up and rode off with plenty of water, hoping for some shade from the pine trees along my route along the Painted Rock Loop via the Tahoe Rim Trail. I followed the bike path along the road for a mile or two, then dipped into Dollar Point suburbia before getting onto some singletrack and gently climbing upwards through the dirt. It was a really nice area, a perfect spot to get started on a long ride.
I saw a sign at a trail intersection that said a 50km race would be happening in the area on Saturday – a network of singletrack making a loop starting and finishing at Northstar. I took a picture thinking I might be a last minute entrant!
At that intersection, I started climbing a steep technical trail which was really intended for downhill travel, but I wanted a challenge and I was getting it. I was super happy with my climbing and thankfully didn’t come across anyone tearing down the trail. At an intersection, I rode onwards, but soon retraced my tracks because I’d stuffed up. Just after getting myself right, I stopped to clear my throat and have a drink – it felt like I got some dust in my throat.
To my surprise, I couldn’t take a full breath. Each time I tried breathing through my nose or mouth, it felt like something was caught in my throat and made me cough and wheeze. It was very strange and was not abating. I tried breathing long and deep, short and shallow, drank some water, spat a bunch, even tried eating some apple to wash things down but nothing was working. I stood there for a good five minutes, trying to get myself sorted, unable to get a full breath of air into my lungs. This wasn’t good. I stayed calm, I could still breathe, just not properly. I waited another five minutes and still not able to breathe properly, I called Dan. I could barely string a sentence together I was wheezing so much, but he understood what was going on. I sent him directions to the parking area closest to me and I soon made my way back down the way I’d come.
Things seemed to get better as I rode down and I thought I’d just cancelled my ride for nothing but as soon as I came to a stop the wheezing and coughing returned so I definitely wasn’t fit to ride. I carried on back towards Dollar Point where I saw Dan just getting out of the van as I rode down the hill. Predictably, he was concerned. I sounded terrible over the phone and wasn’t much better now trying to explain how I felt.
I was able to breathe better now, but still coughed every few minutes, catching that feeling in my throat. Dan took charge now and we drove towards Truckee River where we could relax (and I could recover) the rest of the day. We stopped at a pharmacy for some allergy-relief medication on Dan’s advice despite me knowing I’m not allergic to anything on this planet. It didn’t end up helping.
Dan found us a beautiful spot by the Truckee River under some shaded trees where we could watch the hundreds of tubers and rafters float by us. It was like watching all the different forms of humanity flash before our eyes. There were large families, small families, dogs, swimmers, people having a great time and other people being stressed out by the rapids.
We whiled away the afternoon in our spectator’s spot, me reading my book and wheezing every now and then, Dan floating around in the water and getting Cleo in for a swim. We tried out the new life jacket we’d got for her and she seemed to like it, noticing the new buoyancy she had on her rear end and embracing it.
My mind was occupied with my recent lung weakness but I was trying very hard to convince myself it was just a spot of weirdness and all would be ok in the morning after a good night’s rest.
The tubing/rafting stopped around 4pm and so we slowly made our way to camp. We were determined to find a reliable Summer camp so we went exploring along highway 89 again. We stopped at a river-side pull off but there was signage there so carried on north. Just before the end of the road, I spied a dirt road leading up a hill so we u-turned and started venturing. No signs, this was clearly a National Forest road. About a mile in there were even bathrooms! We carried on and we found a perfect spot in a nice open area and perfectly flat.
Within half an hour of parking up, we realized we were in the middle of a major mountain biking spot. Every five minutes or so a rider or group of riders would pedal up the hill right next to us. We re-oriented the van so we’d have a bit more privacy, but otherwise, it was encouraging to know we were so close to some trails.
Dan, exhausted from caring for me all day, soon retired into bed with Cleo while I made a cake and some dinner while listening to a podcast. This was camping, I was happy – and my throat was only being weird a few times an hour which was a vast improvement.
I was up early and got my riding gear on. It was around 7am and so cool it didn’t seem possible the day would warm up to the heat we’d been experiencing. And so, with my long sleeve and jacket on, I said goodbye to Dan and Cleo and pedaled up the fire road we’d camped next to. I was keen to ride because I love riding, but also because I wanted to test my lungs, so I wasn’t going to go easy.
It was an easy ride up the fire road to the singletrack called “Jackass” at the top. It was a beautiful, dry and winding piece of singletrack that took me all the way down to the highway. I met an eBiker on one of the small loops but otherwise had the trail to myself.
There were a couple boulders placed nicely on the trail for rolling over and gap jumps galore. The trail meandered up and down at the top before becoming a full-on flowy decent that rode very smoothly. I can only imagine the dust I was throwing up behind me.
By the time I was at the bottom of the trail, I’d taken off both jacket and shirt and switched out of my full-finger gloves. I was warm. Climbing back up the fireroad, I saw four vans camped by the bathrooms, which gave me confidence that the camp we’d found was perfect. Halfway back up the road, I switched onto a trail called A1 to get back to our camp. We’d seen a rider in the trees last night and I figured this must have been the trail he was on and so I devised a ride for Cleo.
On the A1 trail, I yelled out when I could see the van. Dan opened the door and though he couldn’t see me at first, I told him to put Cleo’s collar on and let her run to me. This he did and Cleo was soon jumping over fallen logs and trotting through brush to get up the hill. She was soon on the trail and new the deal immediately. She was out-running me as I continued climbing up the track where we came across a downhill rider who easily maneuvered past her and then me.
I took Cleo to the top of A1 then we rode the top of Jackass and its small loop backwards then out onto the fireroad again. It was probably only three miles, but that was a perfect amount for Cleo. Back at camp, Dan was out making coffee and Cleo was soon under the the car to recover. I went for a second lap then, going a little harder and enjoying the trail much more a second time. I was in heaven climbing the single track a second time, leaving my feet on the pedals for the length of it and thoroughly testing out my lungs. No issues. I obviously just got something stuck in my throat yesterday and now it was gone.
While I ate some breakfast back at the van, we searched for a suitable crag and found one in Deep Creek Crags, not far south of us in the same forest. Despite the south-facing wall, we figured we’d try our luck and take the tarp for shade if it was too hot.
It was a 30 minute exploratory drive along forest roads to get to the parking area which we never made it to thanks to a row of boulders placed across the dirt a half-mile from the spot. We couldn’t explain that but it didn’t matter, it would be an easy walk. I made us some lunch, we packed up and moved out leaving the van parked in the sun.
I was a little concerned at the heat as we approached the cliffs but as we started descending down the hill to the face of the crag, my fears were abated. Yes the wall was in full sun but there was a consistent cool breeze travelling through the valley that almost gave us goosebumps! Cleo was into a shaded spot quick smart and relaxing while we scoped out the wall. No descriptions in the guidebook so we relied on Mountain Project to find our way.
I was happy to see bolts on the wall and started out on “Unknown 5.6” (5.7). It was nice and easy going with a few gear placements for peace of mind but the featured rock made for calm climbing. Dan ran up it after me, enjoying the sun and wind combination.
Next we scraped through a net of bushes to get to the belay position for “Jitters” (5.9) and this route I really enjoyed. It had a nice bulge at the top with almost excessive bolting and just outstanding holds. Dan was on the same page, climbing smooth as silk.
We stopped for lunch then, each of us shimmying into crevices of rock to find shade enough to sit a while without getting burnt. We must have lathered up with sunscreen at least twice and I still got a little burnt on my back.
Now for the real climbing – “Climb Like a Madman” (5.10a). I was bummed I never got to get onto the long 5.10a routes in Clark Canyon before the fire hit and I wasn’t going to leave Tahoe without going up at least one grade. The beta for this route described the crux as making sure not to pump yourself out before the anchors. With this in the back of my mind, I started on up.
I placed two pieces of gear before the ridiculously high first bolt, super happy with a sling I managed to wedge behind a flake of rock. After the first bolt, the climbing began and it was brilliant. The wall was either vertical or slightly overhung, so as the beta suggested, there was never a chance to take weight completely off your arms. I stayed as smooth as I could, taking chalk frequently and clipping my bolts comfortably. At the roof towards the top, I took my time then went for my holds and found they stuck nicely. It was a little awkward clipping the last bolt, but I managed. At the top, I was stoked, the climbing had seemed easy and just my style. We’d only been climbing in bits and pieces for a week and I feel I’d come a long way from getting my arse kicked by a 5.8 on granite.
Dan next and he was in climbing heaven. It took him a while to get my sling out, but otherwise he climbed consistently. A little ways after the first bolt, I saw a small bird come out of one of the cracks and land underneath his left foot. I told him, “There’s a swallow following you!” But when Dan looked down (he’d felt something brush against his calf), he said “That’s a bat!” Dan looked down at it and only his head was sticking out of the wall, he could see its ears poking out. Soon enough, the bat came out of its secondary hiding place and disappeared into the wall. Eerie, but it didn’t phase Dan.
He pushed up through the climb and over the roof with grace. He was happy with the day’s climbing, as was I. He cleaned the anchor while I took in the view around us. We could seen Heavenly ski mountain in the distance, a house sitting isolated amongst the pines and the Big Chief (another climbing spot) blazing in the sun. It was a great crag in a beautiful setting.
The wind had died down by now and though there was another small crag with a few routes on it, we were happy with the day’s efforts and so called it a day. Dan helped Cleo navigate the boulders on the way out, then they sought shade while I walked to the top of the cliff to retrieve our anchor gear. We enjoyed the easy walk out along the road, grateful for such good climbing on volcanic rock. I was pretty much convinced that I don’t like granite.
Back at the car, Dan declared that he’d had it with the bike inside the car. It was pretty ridiculous trying to get to anything inside the van while the bikes were stored in it. They were dirtying up the bed, not sitting properly and as Dan said, “this is not how you’re supposed to do van life”. I’d suggested we could head home to regroup for the weekend – fix the bike rack, clean out the van, see how much the plants had grown – and since we were so close to home, it seemed the perfect opportunity.
And so, I got the keys and I drove us out of the forest and onto the I-80 highway homeward-bound. Though it took the normal four hours, the drive which we do on the regular throughout winter went quickly. We listened to the Missed Apex podcast about Formula 1 and had to pause it frequently to have debates about the sport and all of its dramatic elements.
We stopped about halfway to change drivers and poor Cleo was falling asleep at the wheel. With the riding and crag-dogging, she’d had a big day. As we drove into San Francisco, we were welcomed by the ever-present band of fog and cold temperatures. It was a nice change from the sun in Tahoe but by the time we’d crossed the Bay Bridge I was sick of it. Good thing we live in Redwood City – as soon as we approached our suburb there was nothing but clear skies above it.
Pulling into our driveway, we saw that our neighbours had parked in our spot, used our bin and starting piling shit (old mattresses) in front of our garage so they were a little embarrassed to see us, but it didn’t matter much to us. They moved their car and we parked up.
We were amazed by the garden’s progress in only two weeks – the tomato plants had started crawling over the ground, Dan’s special plant was nearly halfway up the fence and the staircase vines were in full flower. We love where we live, it was nice to be home. We only took a few token things out of the van before retiring upstairs for a long hot shower and some F1 shows before bed.
Cleo was asleep on my lap within minutes.