Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ship Graveyard in Staten Island

My friend Matt and I went on a Staten Island adventure this past weekend. Our initial plan was to visit Mandolin Brothers to check out their archtop guitar selection (it was amazing). Since we were there I suggested we check out the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard in the Rossville section of the island. I can't remember where I first heard about this place, but the stories have intrigued me and we hopped in the car with our cameras and gear.

To get to the ships we had to wind
our way through towering metal cargo containers, a sort of garbage-cathedral.

The entrance was hard to find. And it was a strange, partially-desolate area. On the road bordering the junk yard where the boats are laid to rest are 1) an animal feed depot 2) a car wash 3) an automechanic 4) a night club (with a back to the future theme night on mondays) 5) a western-style saloon 6) an 18th century graveyard and 7) a lone house between the feed depot and graveyard.

A partial view of the ship graveyard through the trees...

We finally found our way around Do Not Enter signs and rusty, twisted cargo containers to our destination. It was a smelly and muddy place. Crabs darted sideways in and out of their protected holes in the ground. Garbage everywhere. But amongst the water and the reeds lay dozens of rusted, barnacle-covered ships, scuttled to rest until they decay into oblivion. It was just what we were looking for. We clicked and clicked away with our digital cameras. Carefully we stepped and climbed amongst the wrecks as they lay rotting along the shore. I may return to this strange area again....when I feel up for yet another Staten Island adventure.

Yosemite Movies

My last post about Yosemite. Here's some quick clips I shot w/my camera while on my trip. I love this movie option on my camera!

The view from Glacier Point.....where you can observe almost the entire valley from one vantage. Stunning.

View from the bottom of Yosemite Falls. This is already fairly late in the season so it's just a trickle compared to what it's like in the early spring after the snow melt.

As we were driving back from the Eastern Sierra we saw this mysterious blinking X on the horizon. I had to check it out. Turned out it was a signal for a small runway nearby.

Jesse and Jon were performing at the Awanee Hotel. Jesse is an amazing piano player. This is my favorite Beethoven song.

Jon's special sound effect while opening a wine bottle.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Climbing Yosemite

I've been rock climbing about a year now. The first time I did it was last summer up in the Shawangunks (or as the climbers simply put it, "the gunks"). A good friend of mine was just getting into it and a group of us drove up for the day. As a kid I always loved to climb things and through college I would always sneak up onto rooftops, so this sport definitely fulfills a need in my life.

If you go to a gym, the basic equipment you'll need is a harness (this loops around your waist and attaches you to the rope, your lifeline), a chalk bag (the chalk keeps your hands free from sweat which will cause you to slip), and a good pair of shoes (fits extremely tight on your feet and takes some getting used to....they'll never be comfortable). When you're out on the real rock I would recommend a belay device, a helmet, some slings and a loop chain, and an assortment of carabiners (locking and non-locking). Here's a link to an equipment list by REI if you want to see what I'm talking about.

I find this sport very good for core-stren
gth. Goes very well with yoga. It also helps you with balance and keeps your brain sharp. When climbing, make sure you conserve can be a long way up.....and stay calm, even when things get real difficult or scary. Some people can get freaked out by the exposure and heights....but remember that you're locked into your rope and trust that your leader has set up good points of protection on the rock face.

At Yosemite the rock is all granite, which is great for climbing. Very solid and climbable. You will get a great mixture of face climbing (scaling the face of the rock) and crack climbing (wedging your hands, fingers or limbs into cracks in the rock). There's so many climbing spots in the valley that there's something for every level of climber. I tend to feel comfortable on grade 5.8 (which is fairly entry-level). But I can do a 5.9 and possibly a 5.10 in short runs with a good belayer.

Off-roading to Area 13 in my rental car

The first climb I did was just with me and Jesse (Jesse James!). An early morning rise, to avoid potential crowds, and it was a short bike ride from our apartment. The route was Bishops Terrace. It was a 160 ft climb involving 2 pitches. Jesse lead of course and I belayed from below. Then I climbed as he belayed me from the top and I cleaned up all the protection off the rock (removing the cams and nuts). We did 2 pitches and then double rappelled down the rock to the ground below. My rope got caught on the way down and I had to climb back up to free it, which was a bit of a challenge because then I had to climb back down (which is trickier than climbing up). It was a great start to the day!

At the anchor station

Jesse praying to the rock climbing gods
rappelling down bishops terrace

The next day we climbed Area 13, which is not in Yosemite Valley but in the Eastern Sierra in Clark Canyon. This was very different ro
ck than the granite I is sedimentary and therefore the holds don't feel as solid. Little bits of it can crumble in your hands. But the climb I did was very easy and it was a straight shot up with great views of the canyon.

climbing Area 13

view from the top of the climb
we met Moon while climbing Area 13

The best climb I did was back at Yosemite in an area called Manure Pile Buttress (don't ask why it's called that). The route was Nutcracker and it was 600 ft, 5 pitches and a 5.8/5.9 grade. It took us 5 hours to do and was filled with many challenges. But after a few challenging parts you would get a few easy moments which would then give you time to take it all in and enjoy the views and the fruits of your labor. It was damn exciting mantling over a roof hundreds of feet in the air. Occasionally I would see cute little chipmunks scurrying across the cliff face in front of me. They live up in the crevices and, I suppose, from many of their predators. At one point Jesse dropped his chalk bag and it fell until it caught itself on a bit of roughness about 20 feet below us. I rappelled down to rescue it and self-belayed my way back up. It was a cool feeling to climb up the rock like that. Another new experience was belaying while hanging off the anchor. It was a bit uncomfortable but was cool to be safely leaning off the edge like that. Instead of rappelling down, we hiked down the other side of the mountain. Or basically running down the mountain since Jon and Jesse were late for work.

belaying off the edge

view up to the 4th anchor point
not much room to stand at station 3
a brief rest
Jesse & Jon at the top of Nutcracker

The final climb that week was a 200 ft, 1 pitch crack climb called Jamcrack. After doing Nutcracker this was easy. Right next to it was a 5.10 that I wanted to try but we ran out of time. For this climb we had our friend Natasha have a go. She had never climbed before but was a total natural. She's extremely athletic and took to it right away. I was impressed, especially since she didn't even have the proper climbing shoes.

belaying Jamcrack

Jon leading Jackcrack
view up the crack

It was a great experience climbing in Yosemite and I hope to do it again. The biggest climb there is called El Cap, and takes 3 days to do and you have to camp on the mountain. I don't know if I'd ever be interested in something quite so epic, but who knows.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yosemite Valley and beyond...

OK....and now I will write about my travels to Yosemite.....and beyond!

This trip came together rather fortuitously. Last year I read about the life of Eadweard Muybridge, which delved deep into his adventures photographing Yosemite Valley early in its life as a national park. It first peaked
my interest in the area. The past year I've also been getting really into rock climbing, both at local indoor gyms and the cliffs upstate. From what I've learned, Yosemite is one of the premier climbing centers in the world. Finally, my friends Jon and Jesse announced they were spending the summer in Yosemite, performing at the Awanee Hotel (Jon plays sax, Jesse plays piano). It all fell into place. I was going to Yosemite.

August 9: my plane lands in San Francisco. It was an easy flight and a great start to my trip. However, just as I was getting excited to hop in my rental car for the 4 hour drive out East, I saw the line. A 2 hour long wait to get to the front desk! Look at all this upset people.

However, I have patience and just waited as I read my book (David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries; an entertaining read). Due to the long wait, I finally arrived in Yosemite under the cloak of darkness. The headlights meandering around the road as it snaked through the darkened forest. I found the hotel, warm and glowing in the cool night. Jon and Jesse were just finishing their set and after a couple of drinks we walked back to the village. They were house-sitting a friend's apartment....staff accommodations for management. Very nice!

I saw this cool barn on my way to the valley

I woke up the next morning to Yosemite Valley. It was as beautiful as one can imagine. You almost feel like you're standing in a large diorama set up just for the tourists because it's so perfectly formed it can't be real. But it is. The sky was so blue and the granite rocks jutted out of the soft green valley floor, which was covered in the ponderosa pine. Breathtaking.

After a day of hiking around the waterfalls and cliffs I went on my first climb. Early in the morning Jesse and I did a 2-pitch climb called Bishops Terrace. My next post will focus on the rock climbing in Yosemite, so I will save these details for later. After our climb we added another member to our troop; a vivacious yogi woman from Venezuela via San Diego named Natasha who had come to visit Jesse. She was as adventurous as the rest of us and proved to be a great companion and a good balance to our testosterone-heavy trio. We packed up and headed out of the valley to the Eastern Sierra....8000ft elevation! The desert. Hot springs.

Through the green meadows of Tuolomne and higher to 10,000ft of the moon-like landscape of Olmsted Point. Olmsted Point is named after Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed many of the urban parks across the USA, including Central and Prospect Park. The area was smooth rocks, worn by the wind, with large boulders balanced precariously on the surface like giant marbles.

On our way to the desert we went for a dip in Tenaya Lake. It was a glacial lake, so cold doesn't begin to describe. But we just ran in stark-naked before we could change our minds. Boy, it felt great, but after a few minutes I was finding myself short of breath and came back to shore to dry off in the warm sun.

After descending down a windy road through the valley we wound up in the Eastern Sierra. This is a stunning high-elevation desert, surrounded by snow-capped rocky mountains all around. We stopped for dinner at the Mobil Station. The Tioga Pass Mobil Station is world famous for its amazing food and scenic location. The gourmet menu included items like fish tacos, lobster taquitos and herb-crusted pork tenderloin. The girls are cute and the atmosphere is friendly. A must if you're passing through the area.

The fish tacos at the Mobil Station

Cowgirls of the Eastern Sierra

The sun went down and we drove around a bit lost, looking for a camping spot off the winding dirt roads leading to nowhere in particular. Luckily, we had Tame Impala to provide the spooky soundtrack for our adventure. We finally found a spot with natural hot springs and suitable spots for our tents. We sat in the hot water and looked up at the shooting stars on the moonless night. It was truly magical.

The giant X at Mono Lake

The next day we found a great rock-climbing spot called Area 13. It took some more off-roading in my rental car, but it was a cool place off the beaten-track. Very different climbing from Yosemite...the rock is a lot more porous so, although there are many hand-holds, they don't feel as solid. After a couple days in the Sierra we headed back to the comforts of our apartment in Yosemite Valley and drank some well-deserved Pinot Noir from Monterey.

Clark Canyon on the way to Area 13

On Wednesday we went on the best climb of my stay...a 600ft 5-pitch climb up a route called Nutcracker. It had everything one could look for; finger and hand jams, face climbing, a roof and a mantle. And the whole time, beautiful views of the valley below! It took 5 hours and Jon and Jesse were late for their gig at the hotel, but it was well worth it (and they didn't get in trouble).

Jesse leading the climb up Nutcracker

View from top of Nutcracker

My final day I drove up to Glacier Poi
nt and took pictures of the best overall view of the valley. I towered over everything and could see almost everything I had visited on my stay. A nice way to end my inspiring trip to Yosemite. I would definitely love to return. And I shall...

A view from Glacier Point

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kiddie Pool Fountain

Anyone know where I can buy one of these things???