February Fire Season

Heading down the steep Sherwin Grade.  65 mph, 70, 78, 85... Picking up speed like the winds of last Friday.

To the west, red color catches my eye and I slow down.  Remembering.

From Bridgeport to Mammoth - just before the Van Dyke Fire broke out and destroyed a power substation - overturned trailer trucks and the snapped 4x4 posts of former 395 highway signs litter the drive.  Occasionally flinching with the expectation that the gravel flying through the air would shatter the glass of my vehicle.  

The powerful wind event carried across Mono Lake.  Covering it in the dust exposed by 4 years of serious drought.  A silent curse as I stop to snap a phone photo, having consciously declined to pack my camera earlier that morning in spite of knowing about the incoming weather.

Mono Lake In Turmoil
The door flung open into the wind - glasses fly off my face and blow quickly out of sight.  Another curse.  A quick snapshot and back into the car, with seats newly covered in rocks and dirt.  Another curse.

But curses are catching.  Arriving in Mammoth comes with the news that a fire was burning in Round Valley.  An order to go home by the jefe.  Pick up the wife and kid and head home - past the fire at the airport (wtf?).  But home has been evacuated and billowing smoke rises from the valley floor.

Oh Fuck My Dog Is In There
The thought slams around in my chest as I stand at the CHP road block.  "I'm so sorry" the officer says.  "Mandatory evacuation order.  No one is allowed in."  I push the thought back into my head.  Breathing.  A house in Paradise is burning.  Buster is there.

I look across to the 395 where entry to the area may be possible - running across the desert and through some canyons.  I look at the fire, it shifts with the wind direction.  Burning power poles north along the single road access.  Throwing them across the pavement.  Now moving back downhill south.  Now moving quickly west along a Cottonwood-lined dirt road.  In rapid succession, dozens of trees explode into fire in grand show.  The fire flies through the air - literally - and moves north again.  Back uphill toward Swall Meadows.  My friends look too.  There's no outrunning this fire if it finds you.  I need to drive in.  

Steady with adrenaline, I send the family off to be with friends.  The fire trucks are exciting for the 2 year old.  But he needs dinner.  And I need to get Buster.  The emotional turmoil of neighbors surrounds me.  Near helplessness is feverishly stirred by the wind.  I stand still.  Waiting for the opening.

I spot a familiar vehicle drive to the road block.  An officer I know.  At his window, I tell him - Buster is up there.  I get in the vehicle and we take off north.  To go in from Swall where the road is still passable.  It takes us down into Lower Rock Creek Canyon.  Ash is falling.  Exiting the canyon lands us into a scene from Armageddon.  No, seriously. 

(C) Jim Stinson
The fire raced into the Wheeler Crest elevations.  And jumped into Swall.  The radio is a constant stream of dispatch.  "multiple structures...pulling back...propane tanks starting to go...sheltering in place..."  It is surreal.  But not my dog.  Buster is real.  Buster is family.  Operation save Buster.  Speeding down the windy road.  Way too fast.

Passing fire crews and livestock, bracing for impact with a deer.  Surely they are scattering.  But none were chosen to die in that manner tonight.  Just by fire and smoke.  I run into the house.  Smoke inside.  My eyes water.  I cough and Buster appears.  Concerned.  Not frantic.  He scratches at the pantry door.  He wants dinner.  I hug him and grab his food.  And hard drives.  And diapers. We leave.  Back north, past Swall.  Through the movie-set.
Swall Meadows ON FIRE.
In a motel we discuss the possibilities.  Well, if the garage burns down we can rebuild it for the climbing wall concept.  If it's just smoke damage, maybe we replace the carpet with wood flooring.  Fuck repainting though.  Ugh.  We fall asleep before the rain starts.  Messages pour in from friends and family.  Love you all.

The rain wakes me up.  Outside smells of muted-wet smoke. The #RoundFire is real.  I head over, but the road is still blocked - the evacuation order remains.  Power lines and propane tanks.  I look across again.

This time is different.  It is raining and no wind.  I move.  And head out into the desert with KD.
between Swall & Paradise - while Wheeler Crest is smoking.
Into Swall.  We check on a friend's house.  Burnt ground surrounds 3 houses but they aren't touched.  But those roofs up the hill are on the ground.  Smoldering.  

Those families must move on.  

We head south to Paradise.  Moving easily across country choked with brush no more.  Just incineration spots where drought stricken vegetation once was.  Deer shit is everywhere.  Power lines lie on the ground.  Paradise is quiet.  More retired than normal.  Except for the constant stream of "Official" movement.    

Covert-ops to get back into my house. (except for that fire crew spotting)  
Smokey but no fire damage.  Pack the car and drive out.  
I wave when passing.  

It is dark.  I take my foot off the brake, allowing momentum to resume.  Embers still speckle the canyons high up the Wheeler Crest.  The windows roll down and the smell of charred desert fills the air around me.  I am home.


RV Trip

Years. It's been years since the last climbing road trip.  
Things are all happening on the East Side, but a trip has been long overdue.

So : RV
And Moe's Valley

We'd been to the area before and it would've been awesome to revisit the limestone 
but Bouldering is just easier with a toddler - and the sandstone bouldering at Moe's is pretty sweet.

Met a Swiss couple Daniel & Christina there 
and got to haphazardly shoot a bit toward the end of the trip

Kid friendly place too.  Must have been about 8 families there with infants & toddlers.
After sending his projects all day, Aiden needed some naps.

Got back and went straight to Bishop the next morning.
Addicted to climbing.


Painted Lady

It's 2 a.m.
just out of the truck
having trouble focusing
t-shirt weather at 9k feet
my eyes want to close

1/3 Moonlight guides my feet
plodding upward - west

It's 4a.m
11k? swithbacks
alpine lakes emerging below 
a jagged skyline rising above

light sweat -  breeze
a simply rugged landscape reaches out beyond Kearsarge Pass
into the dark pre-dawn sky

downward - north - 
toward the waking lakes - faintly glowing with morning reflection


Marveled, we begin to chat
The Painted Lady is our mission
though timeless objectives surround
experiences for the taking.

The view west sweeps down through Kings Canyon
oh look...another one.

bright now
upward - east - upward - north on the PCT / JMT switchbacks
we encounter people - "no, we didn't start from Mexico"

The rope on my pack begins to heavy
atop Glen Pass we stop to eat
the trail begins to lively

we head east - off trail
to the Painted Lady

The North Arete
broken granite - engaging - 
carefully choosing our way toward an obvious flake system she holds outstretched
8 pitches & simul-climbing on a shortened rope
a gorgeous view north as loose rocks occasionally plummet down from above
our belays are safe under roofs, off to the side

Fiddlesticks summits in post-hobnail boots
for the first time, again.

back to the truck is brutal
but lost in an acute - heightened reality amongst a broader unknown purpose

Familiar & Meaningful