Departure.

So after a busy summer with work always ongoing with the van, it is time to call a halt to that work, and depart! I must say that despite my nonchalance to the impending departure, the actual event had my mind in absolute chaos. Constantly worrying about stupid things. Needless things. Going around in circles with ‘what-if’ scenarios, that I couldn’t have any idea about until I experienced them.

Upon departing, I headed down to my Grandmas. I had cried already several times, and couldn’t even give a proper goodbye to my brother, save for my throat clogging up. God knows what would have happened if my parents were there. I may have never set off. We’ll find out when I meet them in France. Meeting Grandma was also tough. Saying goodbye is so easy until it really matters.

After saying half a goodbye to Grandma, I left for Sheffield. At least in this part my mind had settled a little. I didn’t have to constantly cycle over things to remember to put in the van. I was on my way, and I wasn’t turning back. The drive went surprisingly quickly, and I was soon outside the door of my friend’s, Liam, household. After picking him up, we headed for the Peak District, to do some classic gritstone bouldering. Managing a few hours before rain settled in, and thereby displacing us from our climbing, we retreated to the comforts of The Foundry, for some plastic pulling. Parking is easier said than done in a 6.5m long van…

Finally we had to retreat home, our fingertips being worn to satisfaction, after an unsatisfactory grit outing. I managed to edit a few photos, and have some good banter with Liam and his housemate Joe, before turning in for the night.

Morning comes after a shallow night’s sleep. Most likely, I’m still highly stressed about everything, but I’m still in control of my mind for now. Liam and I headed straight down to Bristol, where I dropped him off at the train station, so he can see his granddad, whilst I headed into the centre to meet with my former tutor at university to talk PhDs. After a useful conversation, I headed to Redpoint to say hello to my friends and colleagues in arms.

It was great to see all the familiar faces, most of which were excited not because I was saying hi, but that there might be someone to do some work! After saying hi to anyone and everyone I knew, I departed to get provisions for the van, then for some climbing!

Driving into the gorge is as nostalgic as ever. Surrounded by cliffs that distract the eye from the road, it reminds me of Yosemite. The British Yosemite. Parking up a Sea Walls, I do some laps on Sleepwalk and Nightmare, two brilliant routes. After that I had a need for food, so I settled in to cook dinner. Risotto rice in a bag. Looks alright enough, so I start it on the hob…

 

At this point, I start writing a diary, which will replace this now that I’ve caught up with the events…

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It was over so fast…

After an extremely busy roadtrip, in which I was just able to edit photos and upload them to Facebook, I am currently in the airport waiting to board my next flight to Canada, to begin another roadtrip! The fun never stops!

Not only has the trip been busy, the internet has also been very variable, with some places like Yosemite (not too surprising) having an extremely slow connection, meaning that it takes too long to get the photos on WordPress. So I started writing the blogs in the car, and just need to upload the photos for the blog and they’re good to go. I doubt I’ll be able to post whilst in Canada, due to camping for the most part, so the connection is unlikely to exist at all. Once I return to the UK I will be posting about the trips, most likely in separate posts for each city and region rather than two huge posts.

To give a summary for the road trip, the locations we have been to are:

  1. San Francisco
  2. Davis
  3. South Lake Tahoe
  4. Yosemite
  5. Bishop
  6. Las Vegas
  7. Los Angeles
  8. San Diego
  9. Santa Barbara
  10. Monterey
  11. Santa Cruz

For now all I can say is that the trip has been utterly fantastic, and I’m excited that it isn’t over yet, with two more weeks of travelling with a friend hiking and climbing in British Colombia and Alberta!

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My family at the Golden Gate viewpoint – Mum & Dad left, Aunt & Uncle right

The Roadtrip so Far…

After spending a few days in San Francisco visiting many of the major attractions except the Golden Gate Bridge that we will see at the end of our trip, a day viewing Davis campus, and half a day viewing Lake Tahoe, to finally arrive in Yosemite. As I haven’t had as regular postings as I’d hoped, I’ll provide an update up until things stand now, which is our final night in Yosemite before heading to Bishop, and then Las Vegas.

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The view from the window of our hotel room

San Francisco still held many curiosities despite the fact I had gone twice before, and now I feel I saw much more tourist locations. Previous times I had gone with relatively local people so I got a good view of what they enjoyed, namely in Chinatown, where we got moon cake together for the festival of the moon. On this trip with my family, we went to many of the places I had seen with my friends before, but with the addition of the streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf, and Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park was interesting to walk around, but limited for what is free to view. There is a pond which was very tranquil and for some reason had a significant population of turtles! To add to this were blue herons nesting in the tree on the island, giving sights of wildlife we never would have thought could exist in the centre of a city. The place that intrigues me the most, were I to go back, is the Japanese tea gardens, which looked like they would be very beautiful as well as a large cultural experience. I am also tempted to avoid it, and just go to Japan directly to experience it. Other park attractions were the Conservatory of Flowers, and the Museum with its interesting architecture.

The last thing we did in San Francisco is a twilight tour of Alcatraz. This was a truly fantastic experience that I would happily recommend. The views of the bay are incredible on the way to the island, and the tour is a sobering and ‘eye-opening’ experience. The prison still maintains its aura and foreboding nature. Then to top it all off, a sunset ferry back to civilization which gives a truly spectacular panorama.

The next morning, we headed to the airport to get the car, and head to Davis, and then Tahoe. The timing of Davis was fantastic, coinciding with the graduation of many of my coursemates from Aerospace. After seeing some of my friends to say my final goodbyes and congratulate them, we walked around the campus, touring the engineering buildings and the arboretum and social areas around Davis. After a hurried tour of Davis, which was somewhat peaceful and emotional on my part, being the final time I will see the campus for the foreseeable future, we made our way to South Lake Tahoe. Thankfully we managed to still make it in the light, with the mountains in a silhouette, giving an imposing introduction to Tahoe. In the morning we went to the beach to observe the mountains, and then headed to Emerald Bay on the western shore of Tahoe, which gives a fantastic view of the blueness and clarity of the water in Tahoe.

Now on our way to Yosemite, we stopped by above Mono Lake, where a breathtaking view takes you off-guard as you round a corner. Continuing in to Tioga Pass, to head through Tuolumne to Yosemite, mountains flank you on either side with remnants of snow that have yet to melt reminding you of their height. As you drive along, you continue to gain altitude, wondering when it will summit, when you eventually reach the Yosemite park limit, at an altitude of 9975ft, which is close to the highest train up to Gornegrat, that we did a few years ago, at a height of 3089m. After passing through the Tioga toll, you enter into the Tuolumne meadows, a brilliant panorama of long grass fields surrounded by granite domes; a campers’ paradise. After some time, you eventually get your first view of Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in centre stage. Never in my life had I seen so much exposed rock in a single view. It appears like an ocean of granite flash frozen into position, that you could spend multiple lifetimes exploring.

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First view of Half Dome
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The vew of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View

The Valley from the front is no less impressive, with El Capitan and Bridalvale Falls take the foreground. The Tunnel viewpoint gave an utterly incredible view of the valley before we headed to our cabin, but in that moment I understood why people give up everything to live their lives in Yosemite Valley, dodging rangers and freeloading. It made me quite tempted to join the craze. Unfortunately, we were pressed for time, otherwise we may have done a quick drive around the valley before heading up to get some sleep. As it stood, we just headed to the cabin. The next day I did a hike with my mum, which I’ll give its own post. For now, I’ll leave this post there, which gives a brief written and visual story.

 

Thanks for the memories

So I wanted to make a post, as I have now officially ended my year of study in Davis, California. As many will imagine, it is a period with very mixed emotions, and a bittersweet time. Surprisingly to me though is that it isn’t quite as bittersweet as I expected, and I guess this is because it’s the right time to return. I’ve had my fun, and now I must go back. There are also many people and things I miss at home, so there’s stuff to look forward to about returning too. Any departure is also just a reason to get back again, so I certainly hope that this is not the last time I see anyone that I have met at Davis, and challenge and implore everybody to stay in contact.

I am currently packing to begin travelling the state of California with my family, both showing them what I’ve seen, and experiencing new things with them. After this I travel to Vancouver, where I will begin a second road trip around British Colombia. As such I have a busy and exciting month ahead, with the weight of exams off my back. I’ll be posting fairly regularly about my travels, and about experiences I didn’t have opportunity to write about that happened over the academic year.

Finally, to any Davis students reading this post, allow me to say my most sincere gratitude for an absolutely unforgettable year, which I cannot express in words how significant the memories forged here are. It has been a hugely defining year in my life, and will be with me until the day I die. The friends I made, and the experiences I shared with them cannot be replaced. The University of Bristol, and University of California are the two institutions that made this possible, and every student at Davis that make it what it is, I thank you for this year.

Until next time Davis!!!

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Point Reyes Hiking

So I am quite aware that I have not been posting quite as frequent as I should. Things have been somewhat busy, and this is perhaps the only opportunity I will have to actually update my blog before finals. I’ll probably save the academic post for it’s own dedicated post, after finals so I can take my time. After exams, I also hope to have quick blog updates of my travels with my family around California and Nevada. For now however I really want to share my experience hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore with the Davis Hiking Club. This was such an amazing experience and convinced me to hiking more often.

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Arrival at Bear Valley meets us with low clouds rolling through the trees.

Arrival saw us at Bear Valley car park (parking lot for the Yanks reading), in a foggy forest. The fog was visible for a good portion of the drive through the hills, making the hills feel very ominous, but extremely beautiful. As we set off hiking, the hills were still going in and out of cloud coverage, and as we ascended Mt Wittenberg, we eventually ascenced into the cloud. This made for some quite enchanting scenes, that one would unlikely wish to be alone in. But another side of me kind of wished to be isolated in this forest, and just completely detach from civilisation. I’m sure that this feeling would not have lasted long, before becoming increasingly concerned for my safetly. Either way I was loving it.

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Makes me feel like we’re wakling through a rainforest.

The ascent was quite amenable to me, although I’m sure that’s due to approaching crags and rock faces with steep approaches. Still it allowed me to enjoy the surroundings more and take photos every so often,  catch up with friends and make new ones. The trail is ideal like this, with ascent for about 2 miles, and then a steady descent to the shoreline and then flat back to the cars. Once at the summit, cloud was all around us, in a complete whitewash. Only the nearest trees could be seen before quickly dissapating into white. Somewhat underwhelming if you were hoping for a fantastic vernanda, but special in its own way.

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Summit group!

The descent now began, and is a gentle slop down to the shore, and this is where the hike really came into its own. The forest became a mystical place that felt completely at home in a fictional novel by the likes of Tolkien or Rowling. Stripped trees steadily fade into white, the monolithic redwoods creating a tall canopy. I felt humbled to be trespassing on this alcove of nature, which seems completely alien to the Californian landscape.

The fog was steadily clearing as we descended and the day went on. By the time we had a view of the coast, the fog was completely gone, and we had clear views all around. We continued out steady descent over rolling hills, the forest to our back and sea to our front. We appeared to have hit particularly lucky, as there were whales just off the shore, surfacing regularly. It was my first time seeing a whale, and it was a very cool experience. Now I need to see one up close, not from near enough a mile away.

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Thar she blows!

We continued along the shoreline heading southwards towards the cars, and just enjoying the coastal scenery. This was a good time for conversing, because the paths were wide for large stretches, allowing 2-3 abreast. This was a great part of the hike, being able to meet new people in a fantastic biome of wildlife.

As we were on the final stretch of the hike, at mile 13 or so, we walked alongside a river, which provides water to a dense jungle of trees and ferns, giving way to some fantastic creations. It challenged what I thought could exist in California, let alone in a location 30 minutes from San Francisco. Point Reyes is definitely a place to visit and explore, I would say most importantly for the residents to realise the diversity of the state wildlife.

Bishop Bouldering

Unfortunately I was unable to make a post after my last bishop trip due to the university work heating up, so I guess now that I’m in christmas break I’ll lump them together with what I remember of it. The first trip was merely for a weekend with a morning at the Buttermilks, and about a day at the Happy Boulders. The most recent trip was last weekend, lasted five days and saw us at the Happys for two days, and the Buttermilks for another two, and a day at Owens River Gorge. Generally the temps were pretty cold in the Buttermilks so many people didn’t climb a lot, and focused on setting a highline between the Peabody Boulders.

I shall first mention some of the things that were learnt on this trip (context shall not be provided):

  • Chapstick is a must for high altitude.
  • Even if your sleeping bag says 0 degrees F, bring a second/liner.
  • Hot springs are amazing, but getting in and out is not.
  • Everything outside of your sleeping bag will freeze. This includes baby wipes.
  • Bacon makes camping feel okay.
  • Smores are not simply heated marshmellows.
  • Anything embarrasing you do can and will be used against you.
  • Highlining is hard, and scary as high hell.
  • Climbing actually warms you up.
  • Dave Graham at the crag is like a kid in a toy store.

Trip 1 (Nov 20-22)

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Our camping spot on the first trip.

So for the first trip I went with a bunch of friends from the wall at Davis university. Because we were camping at a spot a little past the buttermilks, coming down to climb was really easy, and we began at the Birthday Boulders. These have a nice V1, V3 and a V2 on the next boulder. They were in the shade which meant  that the rock was cold, but this wasn’t much issue.

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A person pulling the long move on the V3 at the Birthday Boulders.

Next, we meandered through the boulders some lower down the hill, which had a supposed V5 which I couldn’t figure out the end too. After getting through the bottom which compressed between the arete and crimps, the holds dissapear and it appeared to be a committing slapfest to the top. I didn’t attempt it many times, as we had a long day ahead. We continued meandering, with a final destination of the Peabody Boulders.

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The Peabody Boulers (left is Grandma, right is Grandpa).
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The crew under the Grandpa Peabody face. This houses some of the hardest climbs in the world.

The Peabody boulders are the stuff of legend to any boulderer, with historic climbs like Evilution (V12) and Footprints (V9) marking the beginning of an age of highballs. More recent additions that have been shown constantly in the media as of late, are climbs such as Lucid Dreaming (V15) and the Process (V16). Just viewing these climbs gave me inspiration, and a desire to be deserving of the boulder’s attention. Naturally, we didnt focus on the Grandpa Peabody, the host of these testpieces. We contented ourselves with it’s much easier partner, the Grandma Peabody. There are some fantastic climbs on this boulder, and I sampled just a few, being Go Granny Go (V5) and it’s lower version at the same grade. I also did Essential Peabody (V0) to the summit of the boulder, granting me a fantastic view for my bravery.

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The Happy Boulders. A canyon in the Volcanic Tablelands.

After the peabody boulders we then drove out to the Happy Boulders, which on my most recent trip, I likened to walking on a terraformed Mars. The area is volcanic rock, and definitely has an alien feel to it, and the knowledge that the rock is volcanic reminds you of the time when the Earth was geologially active and full of chaos – the time these most likely formed.

This was also where I had a potential project to attempt, called Acid Wash (V10). It would transpire that I give up on the direct Acid Wash in favour of a slighly easier variant, Acid Wash Right (V9). Whilst working the problem, another climber came and gave some advice on the right version, which was a large part in my conversion. I quickly got the boulder from a higher jug hold. All I needed to do was add one move into the climb. However, this is by no means an easy move, being an awkward drop knee and deep lock-off. I managed to reliably get the start move, but fell at the final move 3/4 times after running out of gas. This was rather frustrating as I also had to abandon the climb because everyone wanted to get back. I knew that if I didnt come back and do the boulder the next day, it would be unpleasantly on my mind for a long time.

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The successful ending to Acid Wash Right (v9).

Thankfully, I conviced the two remaining climbers in our group to go to the Happies, and once there just wamed up and got straight on the boulder. I gave a few attempts from the start, failing still at the end, before dedicating some time to figuring out the final move reliably. The solution I found was to raise the toe-hook I was using much higher, to an edge most heel-hook. Now I had the final move solved, I then returned to the beginning and in about two attempts had the send. The victory was incredibly sweet, and was gave me a small taste of projecting. I dont feel appropriate calling this a project given that it spanned less than a day total of working, but it gave me a good insight, which encourages me to attempt harder climbs in longer term project fashion.

Not to let Acid Wash Right be the only send that day, I then went on a roll through the canyon, getting some of the easier classics. The Hulk (V6) was a fantastic climb with a very gymnastic style, and Serengeti (V5) has some fantastic movement in it. I also left so many boulders behind for future trips. I went to the rim above the canyon, and from this vantage it is plain to see the amount of rock, and also understand that you could spend a lifetime in this canyon and still not do everything.

Trip 2 (Dec 11-16)

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The first time I had ever seen the milkyway, halfway to Bishop.

The next time I would come to bishop would be in christmas break, where I had no other distractions like university to attend to (except notifying family members of my whereabouts). Now the temperatures were much lower, so whilst that is great for the climbing side, it meant the camping got pretty chilly.

Day one began in the Happy boulders again, with the first climb on the agenda being the famed Solarium (V4). whilst heading towards the boulder we stopped a few times to warm up, and one of the most enjoyable was Heavenly Path (V1) which is a brilliant slabby climb with crimpy holds and great feet. After doing Solarium, it is clear why it is a three star route. The final move has a perfect amount of delicacy, making it feel controlled and executed, but still a desparate throw.

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Simon getting the last hold on Solarium (V4).

After that I helped some of the group on The Hulk, before moving up to try Morning Dove White (V7) with Jacob. It is a relatively simple boulder that is basically pocket pulling to a rail, with a few large moves afterwards to the top. I got really close on my flash attempt, getting one move away from the rail, but just fell short of the rail. I fell at this point a couple more times before moving on to the next problem, in order to save myself for later days.

The next area was the scene of two V6 boulders in people’s sights, Every Colour You Are, and Mister Witty. Mister Witty is the classic infuriating climb. A large rockover to a sidepull, and up into small holds, and a pop for the top. All of us were flailing on the rockover, failing to lock off quite far enough. This made me realise that locking off is my major weakness, as this has forced me to fail on many boulders. After realising that I couldn’t manage the problem, I moved around to Every Colour You Are. This is a really cool boulder that tackles the prow of the boulder overlooking the canyon. As a result, it’s in a great position which definitely adds to it’s three star rating. It’s surprisingly burly and sustained, with much of the meat of the problem coming late on. Thankfully I managed it in a few attempts, otherwise I wouldn’t have enough energy to finish it.

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Jacob being spectated on Every Colour You Are (V6).

Finally the last climb we tried was on the way out, and on the other canyon rim, a perfectly asthetic boulder called Atari (V6). It has a perfect rounded prow that tapers to the summit, and slightly obtuse aretes, making the holds much worse than any photo admits. The right arete also sits in the sun all day, making it pretty slippy, and the landing is far from ideal. A barn door to the right would see you tumble down the boulders for a few meters, and the final move to the lip just happens to be a left hand, meaning that you’ll go right if you miss. One of the three working Atari, Toso, managed to get to the last move after several tries, but just didnt quite make the top, which kind of relieved a lot of us. Jacob and I were unable to get quite so high, which again was a relief of sorts. We then decided it was time to head back and get some food.

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Me getting a much needed spot on Atari (V6).

The next day we headed to Owens River Gorge. This is much the Avon Gorge of Bishop, with sport and trad climbing sprinkled around all over. We focused on the sport climbing, at an area known as the Great Wall Of China. This is a really nice and easy area with many 5.8-5.10 climbs to potter around on. I began on a 5.8 which, while easy, was deceptively tricky. Toso tried a 5.10d, and couldn’t get past the crux move, so opened it up to anyone who could get past it. Justin then tied in and managed to get the move after a rest. I followed up and also had to concede a rest at the crux. However the climb was brilliant and definitely one to send if I ever return with more endurance.

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Toso on Peking Duck (5.10d).
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Norman on Sendero Luminoso (5.10b).

The weather then started to make its intentions known, with a light sprinkle of snow every so often. This urged Norman to attempt Sendero Luminoso. A fantastic looking 5.10b that goes of the right face before coming onto a delicate slab arete. But, the weather had drawn in too much, and the holds were quickly becoming very wet. Norman fell several times before having to bail back to the ground. We then made a promt exit to the cars.

Then the next two days were spent in the Buttermilks. For the majority of the first day, people were setting up the highline between the Peabody Boulders, because the weather was bitterly cold. We saw several crushers such as Nalle Hukketaival and Dave Graham come by, and wonder if it was too cold to climb. To my mind it was a large relief to know that even they think it’s too cold.  The most notable thing that happened was the ascent I did of the Grandpa Peabody boulder on the backside, which given the cold temperatures was simply a challenge of keeping my fingers from freezing. The climbing was very easy, with the only challenge being to keep my head and heat.

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Toso trying the highline after being set up, and the backside of the Peabodies. I climbed the right side of the left boulder.

The next day saw more reasonable temperatures, allowing some more climbing to be done. The first thing on the agenda was to solo the highline. Toso was the one with the aim to do this, and thankfully only him. The rest of us definitely did not have the skill to pull it off. To watch him do it was a very inspiring spectacle, and after attempting it later is definitely not easy.

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Toso soloing the Peabody Highline.

After observing the highline, I forced myself to do some climbing despite the temperature and cold hands. After a few boulders my hands had warmed up and I just needed to keep climbing to get my muscles warm as well. I tried to do this through trying Go Granny Go again, even though I couldn’t manage the last move. This then made me have a look at a left hand version that goes at V7, Go Granno Ho. This basically has the same start, but then goes left into a cave with two small underclings, and then onto a crimp by your face, and then right into the jug rail on Go Granny Go. This came together surprisingly quickly, with only about 10 attempts total to get the climb. I was still trying many different methods when I stuck the jug hold, so the quick ascent surprised me pleasantly.

Next I moved onto High Plains Drifter (V7). This is a fantastic boulder that is a classic testpiece of the grade. This gave me more grief because I couldn’t lock-off far enough to reach the crucial sloping handhold, forcing me to get a heel hook that allowed a deeper lock. After getting this beta, it two about two attempts to send the boulder, at the compensation of pulling my left thigh through the heel hook. In all it took perhaps 10 attempts again. These two ascents reassure me that I am improving in my climbing significantly, even if may not immediately appear so. Before coming to America, the highest grade I had got was V6, and now that has moved up to V7, which is a definite sign of progress if the grades are consistent.

Finally I moved westward to meet up with everyone and try Buttermilk Stem (V1). This is a fantastic piece of home, with moves so remniscent of gritstone climbing. I managed the stand, and in the last minute of light managed to somehow throw the sit start together, which goes at V4.

The final day saw us back at the Happy Boulders yet again. Not much was done (It’s the last day of the trip) but the one climb worthy of note was Black Magic (V3). This was a fantastic highball which all of us who climbed it enjoyed. The view from the top of the boulder was also a special position, with a great view of the canyon. Toso also appeared to be on a roll that day, with successful sends of The Hulk and Atari finally. Can’t wait to get back!

 

Comparing US/UK Education

After doing a quarter of learning at UC Davis, I finally found some time to satiate certain individuals back home about how I feel about the education here in the US. I grant there were several oppotunities during the quarter, however I am glad that I was lazy and left it to the end of the quarter. I aim to primarily compare between US and UK universities.

The first thing to note is the drastic change in pace between the two countries. In the UK, there are large lectures with generally 100 students, making individual interaction rarer. You are left much to your own devices in terms of learning; lectures are not compulsory, and it is your responsibility to revise lectures and do examples. The US system is very similar to college in the UK. In general the classes are small, with up to a maximum of 30-40 students in a class, and introductory classes being much larger. There is also weekly homework, and lab work for many classes in engineering, which do contribute to the end grade. 

In terms of which system I prefer, the US system is certainly the better system in terms of learning, however the UK system is a deliberate format to promote self-motivation, and a more independent ability for industry. However this often ends up backfiring into long periods of procrastination with last minute cramming – hardly a good working ethic. In this way the US system gives a much better, consistent ethic that can be extended to working life. The US format is also a large part in the argument of why I spent a year in the US. This year would get me into this consistent work ethic in preparation for my fourth and final year, where 3/4 of my degree weighting is concentrated.

Another difference born from the scheduling of each university (UK is semestered, while Davis is quarterly) is the volume of the content in each unit. The semestered timetable in the UK gives two blocks each year of modules, and so each module can contain a reasonable amount of information. There are also several modules that span the entire year, allowing long term concepts to be developed. However in the US, the quarter system puts the year into three separate blocks, meaning that the content in each class has to be limited, as there cannot be classes spanning multiple quarters. This means that for many of my classes I feel like an extra few weeks of content would further my understanding significantly. Many of the classes seemed crammed into the 10 weeks that make up a quarter.

This leads into another significant disparity – continuity. The UK definitely has the US trumped in this area. The US does not have any established degree per-say. The university merely runs classes each quarter, and allows you to select the classes that interest you, and perhaps a coordinator will force you to take some to achieve a particular major. This means that the education has potential gaps of knowledge where classes dont fully meet ends. The US also forces two years of general education, which from all accounts I’ve heard is undesired and useless. This makes the time for a masters degree in USA much longer than the 4 years in the UK. The UK however has preset degrees, where limited modules are available, and the background knowledge before entering the class is guaranteed and uniform.

This then allows a small pitfall, which is why I believe that the US is one of the industry leaders, beyond the level of financial backing it can give research. The US system allows ‘double-award’ much easier than the UK, allowing effective collaboration towards an otimal design. This is when you obtain a degree to either major or minor standard, in two fields. Nowadays, it is very rare that a system can be designed with knowledge of only a single field – imagine a mobile phone. For a single individual to design such an item, they must understand computer code, silicon chip design, electrical systems, communication, etc., and how to manufacture all of it. It’s not possible for one discipline, so people who have a reasonable understanding of two field to operate as a median between specialists are essential for a good solution.

So in the end, I dont believe either system is perfect and necessarily better than the other. Each as advantages and disadvantages, which are not easy to fix without creating other issues. Certainly, the general education in the US can be removed without any issue, and allow people to enter work sooner and reduce the debt incurred by tuition fees.

Pie Shop Projecting

So last week we left unfinished business, and this time we came back with the hopes of finishing the deal. Unfortunately I shall spoil the surprise by saying I was totally unsuccessful, depending on how you term unsuccessful. However that can only be said for two of our troupe. Two also succeeded at their projects.

The projects in question are The Thing (V8) and Pimp Juice (V9). Both felt tantalizingly close last time, and this time they felt even closer still. Some progress was made, to the point now that I strongly believe that it is possible for me at my current stength…just. I definitely want to go back and work the top section of Pimp Juice, as the overhang is rehearsed and I believe that I have the best beta for my body on that section. I feel the trouble comes with the upper section, which is hard to work, from being unsure of the position I need to get the next hold. I really want to get a rope on the problem and give this a good dedicated session to get down before attempting the problem again. I also feel this will make the send feel better; everything flowing, rather than have a smooth overhang climb to then get petrified on a slabby topout. This is something I have found from sport climbing. On an onsight attempt I am petrified of falling, however once I have worked the moves and know the positions, that fear ebbs away and the experience is much more enjoyable.

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A V4 to the left of The Thing. One of our favourite climbs in Pie Shop

So at the beginning the day we repeated some easy climbs we had done last week that were near to The Thing, one of note being the V4 on the same wall (above). We then tried an extremely short V7 opposite, which is essentially 2-3 moves on this short bulge. I got pretty close to this however was wanting to save myself for the projects to come, but Ben managed to send it. Next we set our sights on The Thing. It took a couple of attempts to properly warm up and remember the beta, but soon we were able to make good links. Ben then managed the final dyno (making it look fairly static) which showed that it was possible. This left no excuse for us not to send, however I still couldn’t give 100% to the move, and I am kicking myself now that I didn’t. But, that’s how it goes; you need to give it your all otherwise you won’t send.

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After making it to the flake several times, I tried the dyno repeatedly and fell each time, proving that the landing is okay. Most would think that this would give your mind the green light to go all-out, but mine still had a red warning blaring. It definitely puts professional climbers in perspective, doing moves much harder over much worse landings. After reflection I am confident that if I tried the climb that I would be able to do it, and force myself to give it my all. Ben, on the other hand managed to overcome these voices and successfully sent The Thing. Elise also sent it from a standing start, and just needs to find a beta for the first section appropriate to her height.

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Projecting a climb is a very humbling and self-critical process. Only so much can be blamed on things other than yourself; the rock is pretty immobile, and your shoes aren’t the issue. You have to analyse everything you did throughout the climb and assess what you did good and most importantly what you did wrong. Climbing is a sport dominated by failure, in search of that single success. For every successful ascent, there was likely 10-100 failures depending on the difficulty. I have spent at least 20 tries at Pimp Juice so far, with no success. You have to search and find out what your weakness is and what it is that you are doing wrong, and once you have identified that, your next challenge is how to address it. If it is a technical issue, then how do you have to change/improve your technique? If it’s strength, what is lacking and how do I build that strength up? These are things that you must ask, and you can’t hide anything away.

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A climb with a view. Hard not to get psyched to get back after looking at this

It is also very useful to have other people there working it with you- particularly people of similar build. Then you can try techniques that suit the pair of you, and view from a third-person perspective and see possible improvements. Elise was useful in this regard, being able to watch someone climb the problem and compare my solution. The compromise is that Elise has a pretty different strength and build- making replicating the beta exactly impossible. Watching Elise successfully send Pimp Juice has definitely got me more determined, as it has been proven to be climbable. I just have to find my way of doing it. And as if that wasn’t enough, Elise also had to do the V10 next to Pimp Juice, PJ Tight, with the most painful gaston I have ever tried to clamp down on- the advice being “just crimp down really hard”.

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Success! Elise topping out Pimp Juice (V9)

Overall, an unsuccessful day, but as I said at the start- that depends on your perspective. On the whole I didn’t complete any of the climbs, but I learnt a lot about them, and about the process, and myself. At the end of the day, if you walk away from the crag happy- that is a success. Climbing is about so much more than the ascent, and projecting cements that ideal in the fun of the process.

Pie Shop Bouldering

Yes, the crag is called just that. Apparently, there used to be a pie shop next to the boulders, hence the name appended to the boulders once climbers came to develop the area. This was the location of our foray for needlessly hard ways up a large chunk of rock. While this explanation may be quite apt, that is the game of climbing; seeking a way up a rock face that is literally just possible. Why? Perahps a philosophical answer would be that the hardest path gives the most reward. At any rate, I get enjoyment out of the activity and that is the significant factor.

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The sunrise as we set off for Tahoe
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The view on the way to Pie Shop

We set off at 7:00 ish (climbers are very chilled) for Tahoe, and 2 hours late arrived at Pie Shop. Initially we just got our bearings of the ple, and tried to find some boulders that are in the guidbook to warm up on. This happened to be a boulder with some good V2 boulders and what transpired to be a V4 dyno. We also did a V1 called ‘Razor’ and is aptly named. The boulder was extremely sharp, and left us questioning why we did it, considering the downclimb was harder than the boulder. However we moved onwards, and up north marginally, to a large boulder which held a V4 on the north face. This was a great climb that all of us enjoyed, and I managed to flash, though barely. We then attempted a ‘one move wonder’ V7 nearby, that was actually a two move wonder, and unsurprisingly hard. None of us achieved it, let alone a resemblance of a viable method.

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The V8/9-

However it seems our attention was shifted to a V8/9 opposite. After a few attempts I managed to get some serious progress along the boulder, managing to get approximately halfway with a consistently repeatable beta. Elise figured out the moves up further, which I was able to incorporate into my beta, meaning I was able to get to the crux move. A solid 5ft dyno of a flake that looks like it could snap off at any time (likely to be glued onto the wall though). In the end, I couldn’t pluck up the courage to attempt the full dyno, so we called it a day for that area.

Next we moved further north still to search for some V5ish climbs. We decided to do Mars Attacks, a classic V3 of the area. Basically chicken head pulling up a bulge, and once the sequence is found it is an enjoyable affair. After this, we decided to seek out Pimp Juice.

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Pimp Juice V9

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P1040783P1040756Pimp Juice is THE boulder of the area. This is a V9 from a stand, and V11 sit. The majority of us conceded with the stand start, however Elise attempted the V11 sit, and was easily the closest of all of us to sending the problem. The boulder had everything. Powerful, epic feeling moves, safe landing at any point, solid rock (most boulders were questionable), and a stunning view. It was easy to see why this was the ‘to do’ problem of the crag. I managed to get to a move below Elise; both hands over the lip and reaching for the next dimple on the slab above. However progress was not attained without sacrifice, and Elise unfortunately paid this with skin and blood.

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The price of progress

There was a group of 9 of us at Pimp Juice, as four other from Davis happened to also come to the crag, and throughout we tended to stick together, sharing pads for the high top outs. This was a true godsend as many of the crux moves arrived high on the boulders, making an additional pad the potential difference between the confidence to try or simply fail.

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After Pimp Juice, we headed back down to some boulders near the golf course that resided over the road. This hosted a couple of problems, of which we targeted two V5 problems. Both had very different styles for the most part, but one common feature: a huge move off a good underpull and terrible feet. The first V5 we attempted I managed in a few attempts with some nifty beta from the group, however I valued my skin too much too attempt the second.

All in all, a fantastic day was had by all, with success, failure and many things in between. However for this day the failures seem to be the highlight of the memories, as they give me motivation to continue to try my best, and defeat these boulders.

First Climb!

So last week I got my first taste of climbing outside. This was a fantastic time however the last week has been pretty busy so I haven’t had opportunity to talk about it yet. I went to a crag called Lover’s Leap, just a little south of Lake Tahoe. This is a really idyllic crag which if i didnt know better felt like i was beneath Half Dome in Yosemite.

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Lover’s Leap from below

The climbing was absolutely fantastic on super solid rock. Exactly what I expected of America in terms of quality. We spent most of the day at Lover’s Leap Campground Boulders, which gave great views of the actual leap and some awesome bouldering. We wamed up on a low boulder, doing some V0 problems before trying the V3 problems nextdoor. I managed to flash this after everybody else had taken a couple of tries, and the most immediate remark I had was how out of breath you get. Lover’s Leap is at approximately 7000ft elevation, and it is definitely noticeable. After 3 or so moves you’re totally out of breath and trying hard to keep your composure. It certainly added to the experience of some of the highballs.

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This was perhaps the most intense climb that day

Next to the warmup boulder were some people trying one of the classic V3 highballs. We then moved over to join them, and I managed to get to the final mantle on my 2nd try, however at the height I wasn’t prepared to do it, despite feeling like I could have managed. A project to come back to with  many pads beneath me. The guys who were originally trying it actually fell from the mantle and missed the pad so I dont have much argument against failing.

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The scary highball with a challenging mantle

Then we moved around to the other side of the boulder at the recommendation of the guys we met, and found another highball v3; but much easier to finish. This meant that a couple of us plucked up the courage and tried it. I managed to successfully flash it, and didnt have much opportunity for joy due to the literally overwhelming relief. All I can say is that the climb is ingrained into my memory, together with the fantastic rollercoaster of emotions it commanded through my body.  This easily made the highlight of the day, and was made all the sweeter by another joining the ‘send train’ and successfully climbing the problem as well.

After that problem we decided to get some beers and head up to a place called The Secrets, which is basically above Lover’s Leap. This was a more adventurous route with some fantastic off-road driving- thank goodness for four wheel drive! This crag was also more adventurous in the hiking as the boulders are far more spread out, making finding climbs somewhat challening in its own right. We ended up chancing upon a fellow climber trying a problem graded V4. this was a really cool boulder with a wide heel hook and deadpoint dyno. We believed this to be the crux however it was far from over, as I quickly realised, and to the dismay of everyone. It did however make for some entertaining viewing and photography due to the desperate end, as shown below.

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All in all, a spectacular first impression by the US climbing!