Friday, April 10, 2015

Death Valley - Spring 2015 - Part One

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

"So, what does your parrot think about all this?" Barking Spider asked the man standing with a large Macaw on his arm. We were returning to our trucks parked at the Racetrack's Grandstand parking area. Barking was in the lead and is always quick with his wit. On so many facets, Death Valley National Park is such an intriguing place. And, as we found, it continues to draw a cast of quirky characters.

It was the Lady's Spring Break from school. The Spiders, now hopelessly infected with the Death Valley bug, were again our traveling companions. We were on an adventure; an adventure, as it unfolded, of wonderful discovery and mystery.

Anxious as ever to launch, we left late Friday afternoon and spent the night at a nice layover spot in the Bridgeport area. Saturday we continued south on 395 and into the heat. Mom Spider has been pouring through Digonnet's Hiking Death Valley and compiling her list. First stop was Darwin Falls, a surprising oasis in the desert.

It was now late afternoon so we found a wide spot with a view along Lake Hill Road. A small sedan drove in as we were setting up, two young men, who set up their tent a short ways up the road from us. The half moon was high overhead as we walked in the night. The young men sat in chairs enjoying the quiet night, the stars, the desert night air. We enjoyed a quick, quiet conversation with them as we passed. It was a warm evening made pleasant by sleeping with all the windows and doors open.

Around eleven pm our peace and quiet and sleep was destroyed by one of the nightmares of western travel - a "Run". A "Run" from my understanding, gleaning information from their trip reports, is a large group of people who travel in packs, ignoring group size limits. Their main aims are driving fast, gauging the abuse their vehicles can withstand, and celebrating the alcohol they consume. They are governed by a pack mentality and the place they visit is merely a stage and not a leading character. Forget about rattlers, grizzlies, freezing or blazing temperatures, flash floods, or any other perceived threat - in all of our experience the most dangerous thing to be encountered is a "Run".

A couple of years ago as we were returning from a Memorial Day Weekend trip. We quietly drove up Green Creek Road south of Bridgeport to see how spring in the mountains was coming. Exiting the valley was a long line of "expedition vehicles" on a "run". It is common courtesy, when meeting another vehicle on a dirt road, to slow to reduce the dust you are creating and to carefully pass one another. Not with these folks. There was no reducing their reckless speed. We pulled to the side and were showered with gravel as they passed (to be fair two vehicles about mid stream did slow a bit). About eight vehicles passed us. It was hard to get an accurate count through the dust. We continued on to a blind corner. I had a thought there just might be one straggler, pushing hard in an attempt to catch the speeding herd. I slowed to a crawl and straddled the right berm along the road. Sure enough, he came around the corner in a power slide, throwing gravel and sideways in the road. If we had not defensively moved off the road, we would have been hit head on. We are lucky to be alive. Reckless driving, disregard for others, and treating the outdoors as only a playpen must be a way of life to these clueless people.

Barking Spider in the morning said he counted ten. The Lady and I counted eight. Possibly it was the vehicle with either engine or exhaust problems that threw off our count. Morning revealed a city now in place down the road from us and the two young men.

We did enjoy a quiet and beautiful morning. Thank god the "Run" probably does not know there are two six o'clocks in a day and were not up.

Spring wildflowers are out. Here's a still life study with Desert Gold.

A first for us - a tiny Lilac Sunbonnet

Grotto Canyon

Today's plan was to further explore Grotto Canyon. With the almost record heat predicted, the cool shadows of an interesting canyon was a good choice.

Rock Nettles were in bloom.

The Lady and I had climbed the first pour over a few weeks ago. I spotted Barking, our best climber, as he went up. 

He was soon ready to safely belay the rest of us as we heard, "Climb on!"

The crux of the climb is a stem move to the left from secure handholds on the right. The Lady went right up stemming the whole way......................

...................and was soon up with her buddy.

Please forgive me, this reminds me of a story. The Lady, being a middle school teacher, brings home from school all kinds for stories from warm and heartfelt, to desperately sad, to deeply poignant, to just downright fun. This story is the latter. At the end of last year most of the graduating class went on a trip to an amusement park. There were some students that choose to not go or for some reason could not go. The Lady also did not go on this trip and one period was composed of these students. The school was preparing for graduation ceremonies and many loose balloons had floated up to the ceiling in the gym. At the end of class the small group of kids wanted to climb up and get them. The Lady set it up so it would be safe and they enjoyed the challenge. The Lady told me how the boys were pretty worthless. The girls did better and one girl made it up high enough to retrieve one balloon. She and the class were thrilled. At the end the Lady scurried up and gathered up the remaining balloons. The kids mouths dropped open and one blurted out, "Coach, you're a monkey!" Back down on the floor, the Lady smiled and asked, "How many of your grandmothers can do that?"

Immediately past the first pour over is an overhanging pour over. With a boost  to reach the first handhold, the Lady made several quick moves and was the first one up.

Mom Spider Photo

I was the last one up. Because of my height, I was the one below providing the boost.

Grotto Canyon is a delight with tight twisting narrows and pour over after pour over to climb.



The Mojave Asters stopped us many times just to take in their beauty.

Climbing one slick tube required chimneying up and then a move onto a mantle with the right hand. I'm just getting ready to move into the mantle and then it's an easy walk off.

Mom Spider Photo

This canyon is exciting and drew us further and further in.

We were stopped in an amphitheater cut with a towering pour over.

We retreated down canyon....................................

.........................and found a nice shady spot for lunch. Barking was determined to find a bypass route.

He came back down and joined us in the shade. We'd all give it a try after snacks and water. The Lady was off first and soon high up on the canyon wall.

Yes, she is in the picture - look high in the upper right. Barking joined her and soon they found a lower route that led right to the top of the high pour over.

This is the kind of day filled with exploration and discovery the Lady loves. The fun continued unabated.

What was around each corner?

This stopped us. A person in the photo would have helped for scale. This chockstone is massive.

There is trend in guides to Grotto Canyon that was started by Digonnet, to not give a detailed route description. It is felt finding your own way is one of the delights and treasures of this canyon.

With changing light as the sun arced across the sky, it was like traveling down a brand new canyon.

The couple of open areas in the canyon revealed wonderful examples of slickenside.

"The ravens are learning to talk!" the Lady said as we approached the lip of the high pour over, "Listen." She cocked her head and looked into the grotto below. "Hi!" she called. "Look there's people down below," she said. "It's not ravens like I thought!" The couple below asked how we managed to get to our high spot. Barking Spider told them to move down canyon and watch us. We had been alone in the canyon until now.

The couple, "Survivor Man & Meg" climbed up and joined us. They were nice young people, thrilled to be out exploring. "Survivor Man" got his nickname because of the camo clothes, big combat style boots, and the large knife on his belt in the small of his back.

We made our way safely down the bypass route.

A little lower in the canyon we met a young couple from France hiking up.

Back at the first two pour overs, the crux to entering the canyon, Barking belayed us as we down climbed. The monkey went first.

This pour over has an interesting overhang.

The final pour over has a large boulder at the top, a perfect place to loop a rope for repelling. I went first and then spotted at the bottom. I heard several thuds above and asked what was up. I was told the four young people had each leaped from the overhang into the gravel below instead of down climbing. They joined everyone at the top. The young French woman said it best as she looked over the lip, "We climbed up that?" I heard the Lady ask their ages, wanting to figure out if we could be their parents or grandparents. I heard the French couple respond, "29 and 30." "Ah, just your parents then!" the Lady said.

Barking added a belay rope to add safety and the Lady came down.

Mom Spider followed. Barking offered to belay if the others down climbed or could set them up on repel. The French couple wanted to down climb without a belay. The man came first, strong and confident. I spotted from below and pointed out holds. He did a great job. The woman followed and moved confidently as well. When she reached the bottom she smiled and said "Thanks for the coaching! How 'bout a high five?" Her hand was high in the air. "That was a pucker!" she then exclaimed. The concept of "pucker" must, indeed, be international and not just American.

Survivor Man and Meg were next. I sent up my cordalete, locking 'biner, and ATC. They wanted to repel. Survivor Man learned to tie up a simple seat harness and was instructed by Barking. It was a learning experience he obviously enjoyed and he was thrilled you could do so much with simple light equipment. Barking soon had Meg tied up, ready to go, and down she came. They both enjoyed it so much we were delighted to have been part of their experience. We cautioned over and over that repelling is the dangerous part of climbing and don't ever take part without a totally focused attitude with back up and safety the key. "Never go with a group 'going repelling,'" Barking cautioned, repeating the long held manta of climbers.

As we gathered up our gear at the bottom, Survivor Man was full of questions about outdoor skills that Barking and I happily answered. The girls were around the corner in the sun. A very different conversation caught my ear. The Lady is naturally curious, very direct, honest, and never condescending. She has a knack where she is able to ask just about any question. And she does. She is genuine and is really interested in the answer. Meg was sporting a tattoo on the top of her thigh.

"Don't tattoos hurt," I heard the Lady ask.

"Oh yes!" Meg instantly answered, "But I love tattoos!"

"Do some parts of the body hurt more than others to get tattooed?" was the next question.

"Oh yes!" was the instant reply.

I returned my attention to outdoor skills.

As much as we love solitude, it was fun running into these two couples.

We headed up Hole in the Wall Road to our handy and favorite campsite. It was the start of spring break and there was no one else up here. Was it the heat? It was hot, around 100° at Furnace Creek. We settled in and enjoyed the evening color.

You can bet we slept with everything open.

Before dawn I wandered about looking at the striking examples of sedimentary rock. This is a very cool place.

As we were getting ready to head out for the day's adventure, beautiful morning light graced one side of the Hole in the Wall.

What were we up to today? Would we have fun? Continued in the Part Two - Please Click Here

No comments:

Post a Comment