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With enough sun in Tahoe to thaw out our cold memories of Mammoth Lakes we kept migrating north to the warmer temperatures of The Oregon High Desert. The drive flew by as we motored by the towering snow capped Mount Shasta and along the straight evergreen lined Oregon Roads. With three days before we had to head to Portland to pick up our friend Dylan at the airport, we took advantage of the time by climbing at the World Famous Smith Rocks State Park. After having two weeks to rest after the onslaught of climbing at Joshua Tree, we thought that our fingers would be set to climb again, but the welded tuff cliffs that seemed like hardened mud with small pebbles sprinkled throughout had other plans.

Mount Shasta in the distance on our drive north through California

Our first day of climbing we stuck to the more popular Morning Glory and The Dihedrals walls. Upon reaching the crag we realized the draw that the title “World Famous” had on the area as we had to bring forth our elementary level skills and SHARE the climbing with several other groups of people. The next day we decided to venture out further in the park taking our mountain bikes this time to climb on the Mesa Verde Wall, which also offered spectacular views of the famous Monkey Face Tower. On the Mesa Verde Wall, we climbed one our favorite routes that we did in the area, Moons of Pluto which ascends a striking arete on the notorious pebble pinching rock. With a revived pain in our fingertips we continued on towards Portland to pick up Dylan.

Hiking to Mesa Verde Wall at Smith Rock

Louis at the top of Moons of Pluto

As if a water faucet was turned on and forgotten about, the typical pacific northwestern rains began to let loose as we drove up to the arrival terminal of the Portland airport. Making sure not to leave Dylan enough time to revel in the inclement weather we took advantage of the liquid sunshine and went waterfall exploring for the rest of the day in The Columbia River Gorge. After our first rushing waterfall spirits were high and Dylan was more than enthralled by the soaking rain as it had his weatherman senses tingling like batman seeing the bat symbol shining high above Gotham. With our fix for waterfalls fully met we splashed west towards the coast and The Olympic Peninsula.

Our first stop on the coast was Point Disappointment which was far from what the name implies. Unfortunately it was still pouring rain and now there was also wind blowing like crazy across the ocean. Instead of hampering the experience, which this weather may at other areas, it seemed to add to the setting that we were in on Northern Pacific Coast. After spending time on The Gulf of Mexico coast earlier in the trip, the northwest was full of completely different scenery changing from long flat sandy beaches to a coast framed by steep cliffs and large pieces of driftwood littering the pebble filled beaches. Before reaching the national forest we stumbled upon South Bend, Washington the oyster capital of the world and also home to The World’s Largest Oyster. We took a quick break and got some great espresso drinks at Elixir, an awesome coffee shop with an incredible location right on the harbor. Full of our new found energy we kept puddle jumping towards The Olympic National Park.

As it continued to rain it only seemed fitting to visit the rain forest on the peninsula as well. They certainly did not disappoint either as we were blown away having only made a couple steps into the forest. The absolutely soaking rain revealed its purpose as we stood between the towering trees artistically draped in bright green moss by mother nature herself. After spending our last night on the peninsula tucked between the evergreen covered mountains and being rocked to sleep by the sound of rain on the roof of the bus we shook off the wetness and worked our way back towards civilization to drop Dylan off at The Seattle Airport and pick up our friend Alex who came out to ski with us for the long weekend. After exploring Seattle we headed into the mountains near Steven’s Pass.

For our first day of skiing we decided to tour into Susan Lakes, a backcountry area conveniently located near the Stevens Pass ski resort. We found a light covering of new snow on top of a hard rain crust, but made the best of the conditions and got several laps in on some fun terrain. We even got to get in our first resort run of the year as we conveniently took a quick detour on the way out onto one of the side trails of the resort.

 

The next day the weather gave us a new layer of heavy snow and higher avalanche warnings so we decided to play it safe and do some exploring around the abandoned Yodelin ski area just east of Stevens Pass. We had to keep a positive attitude, as our first lap up was filled with rain but, the weather quickly changed and we had snow flakes hitting our goggles as we skied through the young evergreen glades which had once served as the open ski trails of the former resort.

The hike up the old resort

Louis getting some fun turns on the way down

As our rain soaked ski clothes hung on our makeshift drying racks in the back of the bus, we cruised back towards Seattle to pick up Ronja, a friend from Germany who was supposed to have flown in the day before.  Due to a plane that was leaking oil, she had been delayed a day and had finally made it to the US.  After picking her up at the airport and restocking our shelves with groceries we made our way down to Crystal Mountain to get our first real resort day of the year, as well as explore the back country terrain that the area has to offer.

From here we plan continue to ski in the Cascades, weather permitting, then meet up  with other friends in Sun Valley, then Jackson Hole. Thanks for reading!

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“LA County has a higher population than 40 of the 50 states in the Union,” a fun fact we heard listening to the radio as we were experiencing it first hand sitting in bumper to bumper traffic trying to drive the bus into North Hollywood. Fortunately we found our way through the masses to meet Mike who was nice enough to tour us around. We first went by Venice Beach and then the Hollywood sign and the star walk. Mike also talked us into experiencing a true southwest classic, In And Out burger. We have to say, it was pretty tasty although it broke our streak of no fast food for the trip. That is, sober fast food, as in New Orleans we experienced the stomach wrenching Krystal Burger, and Las Vegas brought us the unfortunately similar White Castle. Later that night we also got to meet up with Jordan and all went out for dinner which was a cool experience for Louis who got to see his two worlds from both college and high school collide.

A few Burros among the vastness near Death Valley

Sand Dunes within this massive park

The next morning we woke up in the hills of Malibu where we failed at finding Barbie (Or Ken if that’s your thing) but did find some amazing sites as we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway. After getting Tyler’s skis mounted, (finally!) we broke away from the coast and headed northeast towards Death Valley. The green scenery of the now drought-less southwest coast was quickly overtaken by absolutely desolate valleys of salt flats and rocky cliffs. If you were ever wondering why it may be called Death Valley, it doesn’t take long to realize the name is actually quite fitting, in fact you are faced with utter desolation more than 50 miles before the actual park entrance. The wild burros didn't seem to mind the lack of greenery though as we saw several in the valleys leading up into the park.

Death Valley is a very popular place among geologists for many reasons and I can only assume that this mountain is one of them

Lowest person in North America!

Our realizations of a place that is described first off by death continued to grow as we watched the elevations signs go from 0 to somewhere around 5000 feet just before the immense space of Death Valley became visible. We quickly made our way back down to the seemingly misplaced sea level signs that make you scratch your head in disbelief as you drive through the park. Despite our emphasis on the extreme desolation that we found driving into Death Valley we were pleased to find the park to be diverse and full of fascinating sights. From being at the lowest elevation in North America at Badwater Basin, to walking across the eye catching dunes of Mesquite Flats and even passing a green golf course in between, we found there to be more than a morbid attitude to the valley.

Louis checking out Devil's Golf Course

Water in Badwater Basin reflecting on Telescope Mountain

Tyler within the massive landscape of the salt flats

Sitting in shorts in the 87 degree weather of Death Valley and looking at the skis sitting in the back of the bus having been neglected so far on the trip, we decided it was time to migrate to the snow. This idea was not as far out of reach as you may think as the large front window of the bus was filled with snow capped peaks in no time after driving north west towards Bishop. Having to place Louis’s eyeballs back in his sockets after he saw the upcoming weather forecast calling for multiple feet of snowing falling in the mountains, we high tailed it to Mammoth Lakes, California. Upon arriving in town we made a quick stop by Mammoth Mountaineering, a super cool gear shop, to grab some necessities and beta on the area. We ended up finding an awesome place just outside of town where we could park the bus and ski right out the front door.

Hermelda in Death Valley before making the journey north towards Mammoth Lakes

Tyler leading the way up the skin track in Mammoth Lakes, CA

Having enough time still after getting into town we decided to head out for a quick ski and get a feel for the area. Our excitement to start skiing exploded as we fumbled around at first, trying to figure out the new ski setups we were both using for the first time. We got the cobwebs cleared quickly and were skinning up through the mesmerizing old growth forest in no time (for those of you who aren't familiar with back country skiing here is an explanation of how it differs to riding the ski lift). After a sloppy transition, still trying to get used to our new gear, we started down hill finding some unexpected recycled powder turns which had our far from ski shape legs burning in no time. Before heading back to the bus we took the time to do some more avalanche beacon practice to make sure our skills were sharp after only having large piles of sand as the most dangerous changing terrain during the first half of our trip.

On the way up, skiing on storm day

That night the wind bringing in the storm started to rock the bus and had our imaginations running wild for what we were going to open the bus door to the next morning. And when morning did come Mother Nature did in fact leave it up to our imagination, as we were welcomed with whiteout conditions and more high winds making sitting in the bus feel like riding in a boat with stormy seas. Catching a small break in the wind and storm, and having spent the day before plotting out our plan we headed towards the trees which provided much needed shelter from the cold winter winds. Upon finding shelter from the wind the trees also held the stash of beautiful powdery snow which we had been dreaming about since first laying eyes on the weather forecast. We spent the day skiing through the beautifully blanketed woods, laying tracks as we went with every grin inspiring turn. Then to our delight the same spots where our turns sent snow flying into our goggles and above our heads on one run, was covered up by the new falling snow leaving a blank canvas for each run thereafter.

As our legs grew sore from all of the hiking and lack of skiing in the first part of the trip we headed back to the bus. At the bus we met others who were taking advantage of the newly fallen snow and let them in to use the bus as shelter from the still powerful winds. As our plans were to head into town to check it out after skiing we got the bus ready to leave, but quickly learned that Mother Nature had other plans for us. In fact the new snow and wind had turned the completely clear road that we had driven into the parking area on the day before into a literal car graveyard. While helping out a new friend rescue their car from the snow drifts we found another car a little further down the road completely buried to the roof in the snow and then a truck with a camper buried half way even further. With our chance of leaving the parking area seriously improbable we invited the other parking lot prisoners into the bus for some coffee, tea and cards.

After a pot of coffee and a couple rounds of hearts we learned that the road wouldn't be cleared until most likely the next morning. Being that we didn't have any other sleeping bags and we were only a mile from downtown Mammoth, our new friends decided to skin out to the main road leaving us in the bus for another exciting night of rough seas. The next day the storm had finally cleared and we headed out for a quick ski in the morning. On our way up we caught a glimpse of the massive front loader with a monstrous snow blower attachment begin clearing the road with a not exaggerated 20+ foot wind drift. After climbing higher and finding interesting conditions due to the high winds we lapped some more trees and made our way back to the bus. Arriving at the bus we tried right away to get it started, but didn't have any success. The reason for our lack of success was easily revealed as Tyler opened up the hood exposing the completely snow encrusted engine of the bus. The extremely high winds forced a bit of snow inside the bus during the night, but we never even thought about its ability to get under the hood. After spending the afternoon sweeping the snow off the engine and leaving the sun to melt the rest we were still failing at getting Hermelda started.

The calm after the storm. On our way up for a few more turns before dealing with the bus

Still some fun snow even after all of the wind

Seeing that the next day was supposed to reach 43 degrees with plenty of sun we retreated to one of our new found friends houses for the night as it was supposed to be quite cold again and we were uncertain about the amount of propane we had left for our heater. We enjoyed a delicious meal and spent the night learning about the U.K. and swapping travel stories. Refueled and with new hopes, the next morning started with some epic espresso from Chaz before we headed back to the bus to continue getting things thawed out. After making a tent for the engine and using the last little bit of our propane to heat everything up we were able to seek help from a local woman walking her dog who was kind enough to give us a jump start for our depleted batteries.  Even after 20 minutes of charging, her little Subaru was no match for Hermelda’s big o’l batteries.

Hermelda's engine after a night of high winds and snow

The road that trapped us in for the night after being cleared

View from part way up Mount Tallac

Spirits were getting low as we went to our last resort, calling AAA to get us going. Despite the service not normally being offered for buses and RVs, the visibly experienced old man who showed with a cigarette hanging from his lips and permanently oil stained clothes certainly did not back down.  We hooked Hermelda up to his massive Diesel engine made for towing vehicles from whatever sticky situation he may find them in. The wait to start light came on, “beep beep beep beep.” The engine still dripping with water after being all thawed out, seemed like it might go. When Louis turned the key, all but a pitiful attempt was made by the still low amount of power left in the batteries. “We need MORE POWER” our roadside mechanic, turned superhero, said. While still connected to the diesel truck, he hooked us up to a battery booster. Again, the wait to start light illuminated, “beep beep beep.” Louis turned the key and things were sounding better but not quite there. 2 more attempts and we were on the last bit of power left in the booster pack. The wait to start light glimmered with hope, “beep beep beep”, Louis turned the key and kept it turned for what felt like an eternity. Finally the engine seemed to get going but did not sound good. Our AAA protagonist told Louis to pump the gas as fast as he could to keep up with the engine as the booster pack was now out of juice. After pumping the gas for about a minute it began to feel as if we were inflating a balloon with an obvious hole, but we pressed on. Eventually, Hermelda came back to life, spitting out a chunk of ice from her innards like a human spitting out a chunk of spaghetti and meatballs after being given the Heimlich maneuver.

Once she was all warmed up and we finished dancing inside the bus overcome with joy and possibly the caffeine from the espresso we made to lift our spirits prior to trying to start the bus, we hit the road and headed North towards Lake Tahoe. We started off by doing a quick ski tour near Mount Tallac which was cut short due to snow conditions being wetter than the bright turquoise water of the lake below. The temps continued to rise getting to over 50 degrees before making it back to the bus.  We then drove around the scenic east side of the lake stopping at the beautiful sand harbor. After wading through the snow to get to the sand we reached the crystal clear Lake Tahoe with views and reflections of the snowy mountains that surround it. Our last stop of the day was to check out Squaw Valley where coincidentally two friends from college were visiting on break, Alicia and Andrew. After having a beer and catching up we had to part ways as they were to catch a flight from Reno home.

At this point the plan is to continue pushing north to check out Bend, Oregon. From there we need to pick up our friend Dylan in Portland before checking out Olympic National Park.  We will then head to Seattle to pick up more friends and enjoy skiing in the Cascades

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After leaving Zion National Park to escape the impending multi-day rain storm and spending a night in The Sin City, we were more than ready to head back out into the middle of nowhere.  As we drove further and further out of the metropolis, the middle of nowhere is exactly what we found. Flat, barren desert and literal tumbleweeds just like the in the movies, blowing across the ribbon of highway that slices through the unfriendly landscape.  It was obvious this was the start of the Mojave Desert, we didn't even need a fancy little sign to welcome us.

Exploring the Kelso Sand Dunes

Walking through the dunes. PICTURE LEFT; Our convenient parking location while visiting Vegas for Louis's Birthday

Soon the road grew exciting with several dips turning our bus ride into a roller coaster ride.  Some hooligans took it upon themselves to add to the signs warning of these “Dips” in the road, cleverly adding “Onion” and “Chips and” before the word dip on the signs.  After laughing and bouncing our way along the desert roads we found ourselves in awe at a massive pile on sand.  We had been to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico early on in our trip which was an amazing place, but the Kelso Sand Dunes of the Mojave were the Mount Everest of sand dunes in comparison.  Although lacking the beautiful white gypsum color of White Sands, the Kelso dunes were certainly special in their own way.  Tyler took it upon himself to roll down the front of the highest one.  You can probably guess from the photos how that went…

Rolling down the dunes!

Got going REAL quick

Leaving the dunes we headed towards our campsite for the night which was at the Amboy Crater, a cinder cone (think small volcano) that had left behind some interesting dark colored basalt all over the desert around it.  We had just enough time to hike to the summit before dark.  We got an early start the next morning and headed towards 29 Palms, just outside of the park.  We picked up a few little groceries, topped off our water, and headed into Joshua Tree. As climbers, we had been looking forward to this part of the trip for awhile.  Upon entrance one can find the park is filled with massive granite boulders and domes broken up with beautiful cracks as far as the eye can see.  A lifetime of climbing could be had here and our hands were getting sweaty in anticipation.

The central hub to the climbing in the park is the Hidden Valley Campground.  This is one of the smallest campgrounds in the park and there is essentially a permanent sign on the way in saying that the campground is full.  Despite the sign, and despite it being peak climbing season in the park we decided to make a go for it.  After looping the campground twice we had no success and decided to call off the search until tomorrow.  We were lucky enough to find a spot in the Ryan Campground, about 10 minutes away that also had a bit of climbing in it. One feature in this area is known as the Headstone, which is a peculiarly balanced block on top of a large pile of huge granite boulders.  We climbed the two classic routes up the Headstone known as Southwest Arete, and Cryptic and were greeted by some beautiful views of the park from the summit.  We did a bit more climbing and then settled in to make our plan for the morning.

A glimpse of the view of the never ending rock structures of J-Tree

Tyler leading "First 11". A tricky 5.10d out of the narrow hallway that is known as the Real Hall of Horrors

We decided we would head towards Hidden Valley again and packed up some of our things, to check out the scene.  All of the camping in the park is first come first served and being President's' Day weekend Most of it was full, so we were lucky to even have a spot where we were. Driving the campground loop, our outlook of finding a site was grim.  Almost ready to admit defeat we saw a group looking like they were just beginning to pack up.  We pulled over and sure enough they were.  We quickly got a campsite tag and secured the amazing spot, walking distance to the majority of the 3000+ rock climbing routes in the park.  We headed back to Ryan, picked up our belongings and got on some great climbs in the area known as The Hall of Horrors.  Some of our favorites in the area included The Exorcist, Lazy Day, Nurn’s Romp and First 11.  First 11 was located in what is known as the Real Hall of Horrors which was a very cool hallway type feature hidden within the massive granite blobs in the area.

Louis showing his trad skills on Lazy Day

The next day we rose with excitement at our new campsite to explore the area known as Echo Tee, which was about a 15 minute walk from The Hidden Valley Campground. We got on a few very cool routes in the area but our favorites were Fun Stuff and Touch and Go.  Touch and go was a unique corner that had a splitter crack on one face, with a second crack like flake on the other.  For the non-climbers reading this, the majority of Joshua Tree is known for its traditional climbing, meaning there are very limited permanent bolts in the area.  This means that we are protecting ourselves from falling using our own gear that we place in cracks, as we climb up the rock (For more explanation of Traditional Climbing check out this article).  There are a few bolted sport routes in the park, but we mostly stuck to the crack climbing.

Peeking out through the cave finish of The Eye on Cyclops Rock

Walking back through the Joshua Trees after watching the sunset from the top of our last climb of the day

Louis making the finals moves to the top of Touch and Go

Our next two days in the park consisted of checking out the area known as the Wonderland of Rocks, as well as the more local climbs within the Campground and the actual Hidden Valley area.  The weather started fairly cold for us.  Louis had started up a climb called Breakfast of Champions and upon reaching the top and shouting down to Tyler he realized that he had left him in a cold, windy, shady spot for a while.  Tyler was having visions of climbing at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia from earlier on in our trip and toughed it out shoving his cold meat feeling hands and sausage fingers into a tricky crack before we smartened up and headed to find some nicer climbs in the sun. To finish off the day we got on the classic “The Eye” through Cyclops Rock.  

Louis leading up into the last rays of sunlight on The Eye

The next day warmed up a bit and we got on some fun climbs in the morning such as Leaping Leaner and the lovely named Sphincter Quits, a beautiful 5.9 finger crack that we watched someone free solo just before getting on the climb. To finish the day we got on some of the campground classics such as The Bong, Toe Jam, and highly visible to the average Joshua Tree tourist North Overhang on Intersection Rock.  On the last moves of North Overhang it felt as if we were being photographed by the paparazzi in LA instead of climbing in the middle of the desert.

Tyler getting excited about the next part of the climb which moves through the roof crack which is just visible to the right of him in the picture

Saturday arrived and we were full into the swing of being within the Joshua Tree bubble.  Wake up when the sun comes up, drink your coffee and climb.  Eat when you are hungry and then climb until the shadows get long.  Then find a climb for sunset and finish the day with a beer on the summit before rappelling or scrambling down to the bus for dinner.  It definitely was not a bad time.

Our not bad time was about to get even not badder-er as a friend of Louis’s from Camp Birch Hill was set to come visit us for our last few days in the park.  We left a note on the bus and headed out to the Comic Book and then the super classic Sidewinder in the area known as The Outback.  Sidewinder is a tricky climb that starts up a difficult slab before traversing across a slightly overhanging horizontal crack.  You follow the crack a ways and then pull up over the overhang into a vertical crack.  At this point the crack dies out and you make an exposed, scary traverse left on a small faint dike (think a really tiny ledge/rail type feature) with no real hands before reaching the top.  Tyler killed it (in a good way) on the lead and Louis was very excited to follow up to the top.

Louis making the final moves across the committing rail of Sidewinder

Darkness came and somehow the stars aligned and our friend Thomas managed to find us in the bus in the middle of the park at night!  He arrived at a great time as we were getting ready to head out to find the mysterious chasm of doom that night.  Partway through the walk towards the main part of the hidden valley in the darkness we heard others inside the rock.  The tradition is to turn your headlamps off and navigate a maze of chimneys, tunnels and caves to find your way into the great room of the chasm.  To our surprise we found a group of 15 or so visitors in the chasm with one or two “guides” (think campground residents/dirt bag climbers).

After the night of excitement in the chasm we set out to get Thomas on some fun climbs including Savwarfare 1st Everywhere, and the amazing Sail Away which is a beautiful hand crack.  For having not much climbing experience, let alone never climbing cracks before, Thomas killed it hand and foot jamming his way through several moves on the climb.  We got on a few more climbs before finishing on the uber classic Doublecross which is a splitter crack about 100 yards from our campsite. We finished just in time to keep the headlamps off for the short walk back to the bus.

Our first climb of the day with Thomas Sav Warfare 1st Everywhere

Thomas textbook jamming to the top of Sail Away

Thomas cruising up the oh so aesthetic crack of Double Cross

Come morning we had hoped to get on a few more climbs before heading towards LA but we were woken up by rain and fog. After taking a quick hike on the Barker Damn Loop we headed towards Claremont, where Thomas goes to school and were able to do a bit of laundry and shower.  Thomas was kind enough to swipe us into his Dining Hall which was a treat and a half for us having unlimited food of any variety you could think of. With bellys so full it was more of a waddle back to the bus where we began to figure out our plan for a final day in the area in Los Angeles.  Louis’s friend Mike from high school met us and took us towards Venice Beach, leaving the bus on the outskirts as driving in LA is an actual nightmare. After walking the strip, seeing muscle beach and the skate park, all on the Pacific we were able to meet up with our friend from Lyndon, Jordan, who also lived in the area.  It was super fun catching up with everyone and a great way to celebrate being basically the furthest away from home we will be on the trip. It's such a good feeling hanging out just like old times in a place so far from where we originally got to become friends.

The plan now is to start to head North through California before meeting more friends in Oregon and Washington.  We will be adding some skiing in now as well to our mix of biking and climbing.  Thanks for reading and sorry for the long delay as we had been out of all services while away in Joshua Tree!  If you haven’t already feel free to subscribe below and be notified whenever we put up a new blog post.

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