Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Second Visit to Stone Plus One

With a few exceptions, I always enjoy revisiting canyons. Actually, that applies to many places. It's utterly insane, I think, to just breeze through a location, merely glancing at the sights and feeling satisfied that you've experienced something when you really haven't. Then in a moment of supreme presumption, declare it's not necessary to come back.

Sometimes with canyons, you concentrate on all the safety issues involved and forget to just look around. Photography helps. Yes, I have to split my attention between being accident-free and on composition, which may not always be completely safe, but I'm also forced to appreciate my surroundings. Not such a bad thing.

That's probably why when my friends and I tackled the clumsily-named Stone Plus One Canyon (located above Tujunga Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains), so much of it looked new to me. We had been there in March 2013 and returned last weekend for another run. Part of the newness was just the light. This time around, thick clouds hovered over us all day, and then around 3:00, the gray overcast sank so low, we were enveloped in a fine mist that gradually turned to rain. The canyon lost what little familiarity I felt for it. I like that. Plus, I was forced to take a fresh look for different views to photograph which can be a nice challenge, especially in a canyon like this that's so much of a tangle of brush choking the segments between rappels. I think I came back with simple, unassuming pictures; I didn't worry about getting anything spectacular. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do that had I not returned for another trip.

Burned out tree from the 2009 Station Fire.

The view from the first rappel toward Condor Peak (left of the scraggly tree).
Rich showing us webbing from an anchor that had been cut by some vandal.

Jerri checking to see if the end of the rope hit bottom on the first rappel.

Kevin, thinking about something.

Kevin on the first rappel.

Lichen on a log.

Annette trying to work the tangled rope free for Rich.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Napa Valley

Spent a couple of days in Calistoga at the family ranch. I didn't really have time to concentrate on taking pictures, but here's a few that I managed to grab during the short stay.

Bennett Lane Winery fields

The bungalow, as it's known, under the stars. The ranch house has been around for nearly a hundred years and it's where we stay during our visits.

A creek that runs through the property.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Deimos Canyon: Mars Awaits You

Not sure what that title means. Or maybe I do. Deimos is a moon up there circling the fourth planet. In Greek mythology, Deimos was the son of Ares and Aphrodite. He would go into battle accompanied by his father's attendants, Fear, Trembling, Dread and Panic.

Deimos Canyon was like another world, another planet. Stark, narrow, perched on a steep mountainside looking more like a shallow, ragged cut through the rough, red rock than a proper canyon. Once inside the canyon, it felt as though we had entered a crack on an asteroid. And for as difficult as it was to get there, it might as well have been interplanetary travel. The four-and-a-half hour climb was 3,000 feet in two miles. So steep, that in places we were clawing our way up on all fours. I got temporarily sick.

I think preachers and self-made millionaires say that hard work is its own reward, and certainly that was the case with Deimos. Or at least, I sort of felt the moral superiority of someone who has put everything into the effort and was finally satisfied in the end. The canyon was steep, full of sometimes frightening down-climbs and about 20 rappels (along with three or four "meat anchor" rappels where we each went down the rope supported only by the lucky guy chosen to climb down some squirrelly pitch with help from the rest of us). There were several "rabbit holes" throughout the canyon. These were mostly formed by huge boulders that had dropped down from up above, wedged against other boulders or the narrow walls and formed portals through which we crawled. Atop one rappel, Rich, who had fortunately already rigged up his rappel device, suddenly had the ground underneath him give way. Rocks and debris rained down below while Rich was introduced to all four attendants at once. Fortunately, Rich stayed safe, but stood there panting with a pale demeanor that lasted a few minutes.

The rock was just plain weird. On one extremely vertical rappel, the rock was cut at right angles as if it was part of a quarry. I still don't have a geological explanation for that one.

It took us 14 hours to complete the canyon, getting out by headlamp. I suffered, a lot, but in the end, I'm so glad I did it. (But don't ask me to do it again.)

Early dawn start up the alluvial fan, 6:15 a.m.

Clawing up the mountainside with Badwater (282 feet below sea level) way below us.

Taking a break to figure out our position.

Rich checking his GPS for way points.

Deimos Canyon—that cut running down the mountain upper right to lower left.

Duct tape repairs on Rich's falling-apart approach shoes.

Kevin and Jerri taking a rest with nearly a thousand feet of climbing to go.

Rich and Annette climbing.

Jerri working her way along a gravelly traverse.

Jerri on the first rappel.

Canyon scene.

Rich as seen through a rabbit hole.

Kevin, as seen through a rabbit hole.

The rope on this rappel doesn't look like it's long enough, but it stretched at the end.

Annette on the rappel where the rock was cut at right angles.

Canyon scene late in the day and one of our down-climbs.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Vinegaroon Canyon, Best Approach Ever

Most of the time, going to a canyon means an approach that just seems to get in the way of the actual fun—the canyon itself. You bushwhack, you climb, you down-climb, you scramble. It's usually tedious and I'm almost always so glad to get it over with.

Ah, but Vinegaroon Canyon in Death Valley is different (by the way, a vinegaroon is a kind of scorpion). For four miles or so, we hiked cross-country from 29 Mule Team Canyon into the hills near Zabriskie Point where minerals have tinted the landscape yellow, green, blue, red. And, as we climbed higher to the drop-in point into the canyon, the views turned spectacular. There were the Panamint Mountains with a hint of snow on Telescope Peak. We had a unique view of Zabriskie Point and Furnace Creek. The scenery nicely balanced out the fact that we were hiking in 90-degree heat.

Once we down-climbed into the canyon, I wasn't as thrilled. Where we put on our gear was stifling hot. The rappels were half-way interesting and challenging so there was that, but somehow, compared to the approach, the canyon itself lost its appeal. It was just, uh, okay. This is probably why most of my pictures came from the approach and not the canyon.

But, as I always say, a day of canyoneering beats sitting on the couch, even if you are sweating out every last bit of moisture and struggling to get around overhangs in the rappels.

Headed up the wash and eventually out of 29 Mule Team Canyon.

Old tins cans that I can only assume came from some miner in the distant past and are now protected, historical rubbish.

Climbing out of 29 Mule Team Canyon.

Rich approaching the top of the climb out of 29 Mule Team Canyon.

There were scatterings of wildflowers.

The colors were like frosting.

There was a lot of conglomerate-like rock, looking like it was once on a seafloor.

Yeah, it was hot.

Headed for another helping of frosting (and the canyon drop-in point).

Starting the down-climb into the canyon. Annette liked one way, Kevin another.

Rich on the first rappel that featured very little contact with the rock.

Hiking through the canyon.

Rich checking out a rappel before continues down.