Monday, October 28, 2013

Remember the time we almost got struck by lighting?

I prefer my coffee black, an unfiltered cigarette, a revolver, a shot of whiskey, a motorcycle, chewing tobacco and I'll wash it down with a steak and a side of shut up.  My Liberties over security and further more my freedom over idealism.  Two elk skulls sit outside our cabin..

We were at the mouth of the forest.  The service road that we had hiked went on but the forest came to an abrupt halt at the edge of a large reservoir.  Rain fell in white sheets obscuring our vision tracing a path in our wake as we sped across the open expanse.  The sky was ashen brown; lightning illuminated the darkness and a cacophony of discordant thunder rung in our ears.  Visibility was going from poor to naught quickly.  “We are completely exposed out here,” I said panting.  The only thing that stood between us and the car was a half mile jaunt across the top of a dam and a cascading deluge of water that covered our descent down the other side.  No trees, no buildings, no shelter, the car was tantamount to being in another state.   Lightning flashed again, closer.  Along with it came a crippling explosion of thunder.  It was a ground strike to our right. The hair on my arm rose and fell with the undulating charge filling the air; a thought manifested itself and a growing concern that we might be felled by lighting.  I broke out in a sprint. Another lightning strike, I could feel its discharge as it arced into the ground.  My eyes struggled to regain focus; I had lost contrast from over exposure to the searing white light; it seemed to be permanent.   My pace quickened and my mouth filled with the familiar taste of copper as my lungs struggled to maintain pace with the blood forcing its way outwards and the cool air forcing its way in.  I was not going to slow down.  Like the rain, I intensified my pursuit to the car.  My stride widened, I rounded the bottom of the hill forcing myself to take large gasps of air.  The silver car sat amongst the darkening evergreens and barely stood out in the dimming evening light obscured by the storm.  It was only a hundred yards ahead.  The headlights flashed, the car unlocked. I swung the passenger door open as the sky flashed and my surroundings were again thrown in stark relief.

That was day three of a four-day trip to the Quehanna wild area in NW PA, the area known as Elk.  The trip started off quite differently.  A balmy 75 degrees and sun greeted us as we pulled off the road and into the parking area for the cabin we would be residing at for the trip.  “It is perfect” we all exclaimed.  “Who would have guessed prior to this trip that we would go from struggling to find camping in this area to having a cabin to stay at within 5 minutes of climbing?” the rhetorical question came from Travis first.  It is amazing how things change in the matter of a few months.  We unpacked and made our way out to a climbing area to enjoy the last bit of daylight.  Unseasonable temperatures don’t lend themselves to great climbing conditions.  This is especially true when you are talking about heat and humidity on gritstone.  Grit can be very technical and require perfect conditions in order to hold “non holds” on predominantly gently overhanging, vertical and slabby terrain.  Conditions aside, we did have fun and we put up a new problem the first day.  Psyche was high.  The psyche got even higher when a friend of ours hiked up later that day, just before dark to meet us at the top of the mountain we were climbing and asked “Did y’all see that giant boulder in the gulley over there?”. Trevor pointed to his right to an area that we had never hiked up.  “No” we all said.  “Well, I figure it’s a pretty good looking boulder, maybe we should hike down over there on our way out?”  We all nodded in agreement feeling the energy of a new discovery come over us.  On our hike out at the end of the night, we made our way to the area that Trevor had pointed to and sure as shit he was spot on, a giant boulder sat amongst trees in a valley we had never explored.  Trevor’s genius idea to walk up the “less steep” section of the daunting hill we had been climbing led to one of the most enchanting, amazing looking boulders I had ever seen.  It’s absolutely breath taking.  Roughly 25ft at its apex it hosts a number of hard boulder problems on pristine rock.  The main attraction being a line up the belly of an overhanging double arĂȘte feature.  Pictures do not do it justice this boulder is king.  It was dark when we reached the car.  Day one felt great and according to the forecast prior to our arrival the rest of the trip was going to go one of two ways either perfect or rainy..  We had no cellphone reception or Internet access in the wilderness so it was impossible to see which way the weather was trending but we headed home with our hopes high banking on a rain free trip.

J and Gault looking happy despite the rain
The next morning we woke with the all too familiar sound of rain plinking off the tin roof.  We decided early that it would not stop us from at least exploring.  The rest of the day was spent hiking around looking for new boulders, only to return to the cabin later that evening soaked, head to toe.  It was a rewarding day.  We found a few new boulders and we were able to spend most of the day in the woods which is where I feel most at home.

The next day was much of the same, rain.  Mist floated down gently coating any surface exposed.  The morning progressed and the cool mist began to dissipate leaving behind a damp feeling but at last we would be able to enjoy a precipitation free trip into the woods.  We made a decision to head back to the Blush boulder and spend time cleaning and scrubbing obvious lines.  I spent roughly an hour working on a line that will trend up a blunt overhanging double arĂȘte feature right about the same time I finished cleaning we were stymied by a gentle rain that began to fall.   The rain began to fall faster and we made the obvious decision to head back to the car.  On our short walk back we discussed using the rest of our day to investigate some boulders that sat on top of a hill not far north from where we were.  It seemed like it would be the best use of our time seeing as by this time the rain had fully saturated the earth all hopes for climbing would have to wait until the next day.  This diversion into the unknown lasted the rest of the day and included a nearly class 5 ascent of a steep muddy slope.  Brian and I pushed forward as the path we hiked in on became a small strip of unclaimed earth barely bigger than a hair and almost invisible from our vantage on the hillside.  We found a few things but the hike wasn’t sure to bring us back anytime soon.  Our hike out on this uncharted terrain was just as challenging and the rain continued to fall.  This is where my story picked up, when we reached the opening of the forest.

Brian about to get FA of "Red Riding Hood"
Finally the last day we were greeted by sunshine in the morning.  The plan was to make the 3.5 mile hike to the upper golden sector of the golden boulders.  The walk is easy you follow a gold blazed trail to a beautiful stream, go across a wooden bridge then head upstream.  This area reminds me more of southern sandstone than any of the gritstone areas.  Typically grit is plagued with the common problem of being too clean with no holds.  This area is a contrast in the sense that you can find steep over hanging boulders that have amazing pinches, pockets, slopers and crimps.  They all exist at upper golden!  It was a great day of developing.  We all scrubbed boulders we were psyched on and managed to add a few new things to the field.  The last time I was at the golden boulders I put up a line called pressure drop that goes up a nearly vertical/ slightly slabby face that turned out to be pretty hard.  Not sure exactly on the grade but felt tough..  I did a similar problem on a slab this trip.  The problem looked so easy and straightforward but managed to thwart an ascent until I committed roughly 45min and a bit of skin.  It’s a few big moves on bad holds with no feet.  I called it martial law. felt hard to me.

Overhaning pinch problem at Upper Golden.
Although the trip was soggy and I managed to bitch up Travis’s car getting hit by a deer…  I had a great time.  Looking forward to my return and better conditions.

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