Thursday, June 30, 2011

Annabelle's First Time to the Summit

On a gorgeous winter day this year, January 29, I experienced a sublime proud-Dad moment: Annabelle and I summitted Camelback together. I'd been dreaming of that moment since Annabelle was born almost ten years ago, and then, sniffle, sniffle, there it was.

When kids get older, parents see fewer and fewer of those precious, significant "firsts." Being with Annabelle at the top of my favorite hill and seeing how excited she was to do it was just as awesome as watching her ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. It's certainly a day I'll never forget, and, hopefully, it's also a major milestone in her life in terms of her self-esteem. We passed several people who were struggling, and that made her feel like Superwoman.

"Daddy, those people are adults," she whispered to me as we advanced past a few twenty-somethings. She could hardly believe she was doing something so seemingly advanced. True, I've seen people as young as four make the summit, but I've noticed a pretty large range of physical strength and ability among children. Annabelle did it when she was ready, without a lot of pushing from me. We'd been hiking on the mountain several times before, and before the summit day, she'd actually asked me if we could go for it that weekend. Some of that was just trying to please me (oh, please, let her never grow out of that!) but she genuinely wanted to reach the top.

We've been hiking "A" Mountain regularly this year, and I'm quite sure we'll do Camelback again soon -- when it cools off. I'll be back out there this weekend, on a day when it's supposed to top out at 117. It was deathly hot last Saturday, worse than the previous week with the fellows, but I started that day at 11 a.m.. This weekend I'll start earlier. I don't want Annabelle to do it when it's this hot. Not only is safety a factor, but she might associate the hike with the heat, which could be a negative incentive. Kids, my kids anyway, don't really understand the concept of "no pain, no gain" or the little aphorism I thought up, "the more miserable, the more memorable."

I still don't know if my youngest, who has Down Syndrome, will ever see the summit. I hope so. She's become a decent little hiker on all sorts of terrain. It's one of my goals to get her up there someday, but it has to be one of hers, too. We'll see.

Here are a couple of shots of the kid from a different trip last year:

Just for the halibut, I'm also including here a "pyramid shadow" picture I took that's sort of like the one I ripped off another Web site for a previous post. I took this a few months ago, not on the hike with Annabelle.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fellows Hit the Crag

I took a couple of the fellows from work rock-climbing a couple of weeks ago and scared the bejesus out of them. Partly because of that, I consider the trip a success.

Fear wasn't the only thing Adele and Bryan discovered, I'm sure.

They're both from out of town and have never been to anyplace quite like Camelback. She's from Washington D.C.; he's from -- dang, I forget. It wasn't Libya, so it must be someplace that rarely gets as hot as it did on the day we went, that's for sure. He'd never been rock climbing before, whereas Adele had been to a rock gym once in the sixth grade.

The NT summer fellowship program put seven newly graduated college kids in Phoenix to learn about -- and do -- journalism. Just for kicks, I asked them if they wanted to go rock climbing, and only these two were nuts enough to come with me!

We were supposed to meet at the parking area near the Village at 44th and C-back at 6 a.m., but they were a half-hour late. I didn't mind, but they paid for it later as the temperature rose. This was before the bad heat of this week and a week before my hike with Greg. And, naturally, I picked a crag that's in the shade for most of the morning. Still, conditions were less than ideal for newbies. The heat was the least of their worries, though.

I sent Bryan up Rappel Gully, a 5.4R, after setting the top-rope. He gained about 25 feet before asking if he could come down. "No way," I told him, gently. "See if you can get a little higher."

He dutifully advanced three feet, then turned around and said, "Can I come down now?"

"Okay, I relented. "I'm not going to torture you."

I think that was the not just the end of the climb for him, but the end of his rock-climbing career. Heck, I know it's not for everyone, and the guy showed spirit getting roped up and climbing as high as he did.

Adele proved to be a budding Lynn Hill. She topped out on the Gully in decent time, cruising the vertical crux at the end after a few words of guidance from me.

After I pulled down the rope I asked her if she wanted to do something bigger and more adventurous, and to my happiness, she was game.

I looked around. There weren't a lot of great options for us, considering that I couldn't put either of them on belay while I led. Although I let her belay me on top-rope up Rappel Gully to make it quicker for me to take down the anchor, I didn't have the same confidence in her when it came to leading. Nothing against her -- but with an untrained belayer, that could be even riskier for me than free-soloing because of the possibility she'd pull me off the rock accidentally.

I decided to free-solo the first part of George Route and take her up that.
To my chagrin, the free-solo turned out to be much trippier than I recalled from my forays up there three years ago, when I was looking for the spot where those two dudes got rescued. Near the top of the ascent things get kind of blank, and I was happy I had my rope with me. Unfortunately, I also totally forgot that at that first ledge, there's absolutely no decent pro possibilities without a rack of gear, which I didn't have. All I'd carried up was one end of the rope and a couple of slings, but there was nothing to sling. Not a huge deal, since I could always downclimb the route, but it was slightly embarrassing to realize I couldn't do what I'd intended.

Plan B: I knew from my previous trip up George Route that there was a bolt anchor with chains at the top of a cliff just west of where I was, still along what is basically George Route. That was a little further over than I thought and once again, the free-soloing was unexpectedly risky. Fact is, I was in much better climbing shape three years ago from my weekly gym routine, which is no more. But I got there, found the anchor, set up a TR and rapped down.

Adele boldly climbed nearly to the top, stopping only at about the 70' mark where the crag got very vertical. From the ground, it looked like at least 5.2 at that point. Bad me -- sending a newbie up on something I'd never climbed before. Ah, well, it was just a TR. But there was a catch -- the whole way up, as is typical for uncleaned Camelback routes, Adele was stepping on loose holds and gravel that would come raining down on me. Then, a biggie: One of her main footholds exploded about 50 feet up, sending a baseball-sized rocks toward me. One whizzed within a foot or two of my head. Scary! (And exhilarating! Honestly, it was the highlight of my day, though I did feel a bit lucky. Had one of those caught my unhelmeted skull, I'd be typing this from a hospital room, at the least.)

Adele proved herself to be every bit the adventurewoman she claimed she wanted to be. I hope she continues a "career" in the mountains.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer's Here

Summertime -- and the living is easy.

Unless you're from Chicago, you've never before experienced real Sonoran heat and you're crazy enough to follow a desert rat like me up Camelback.

Our friend and co-worker Greg exclaimed, "This is harder than I thought it was going to be!" about halfway up. (I mean the Echo Canyon side, of course. All hikes to the summit referenced in this blog will be from Echo unless noted.)

Funny, because he's half my age and in better shape, overall. During one of our many, mandatory stops for rest and water on the way up, I told him I still had no doubt he could kick my ass at one-on-one b-ball.

I had found the going remarkably easy and, much to his chagrin, couldn't help continuously commenting how cool it felt.

We'd started at 2 p.m. on June 4. The temp about 105. But this was a classic dry-heat day. My guess is 2-3 percent humidity. Best of all, it was breezy. With wind chill, I was feeling like it was about 80-85. Gorgeous. And I've been hiking a lot lately, so the whole way up I felt like a coiled spring. Normally, on a beautiful day like that, I wouldn't have stopped once. That day I probably would have topped out in just over a half-hour. Still not prime form, but a good summit time for me. Instead, we pushed it near the 70-minute mark. And poor, Greg -- he just flopped to the rocks when we arrived on top.

He did well for his first time, actually. He's leaving for Minnesota in another week.

I'll be here, though -- my home for the past 34 years. The Stern family crossed the border from New Mexico, on our way out from Queens, on July 4, 1977. Nearly two weeks passed as my parents searched the Valley for a decent apartment and a possible home site, and in the interim my sister and I experienced Phoenix heat like I've never experienced it before. We lived in our family's tent-trailer in the Pony Acres Trailer Park near Apache and McClintock, (which, by God, is still there -- though catering to a slightly less middle-class clientele now), without the slightest trace of air-conditioning at night. Back then, the heat-island effect wasn't as pronounced and the nights were slightly cooler. But only slightly. We spent our days sitting in the trailer park's not-quite-cool pool and felt truly comfortable only when going inside the park's clubhouse or in stores or the model homes my parents kept touring.

That was my first summer.

And here it is now, my 34th.

The mercury is expected to rise to 113 later this week, NPR told us this morning at about 8:30 a.m., when it was 92 degrees out. No more cool hikes up Camelback until September.

That's just fine with me.