Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cinnamon Slab

I'm sleeping in Southern Oregon, alone in my little Mountain Hardwear Sprite. It's a solo tent, one I just glowingly reviewed for a Backpacking magazine. I wrote a cool 2,000 words praising its clever design, a snappy fusion of minimalism and space. (Magazines love the word fusion.) I bought the thing two years ago when I was faced with the prospect of third wheeling it all summer. I know my coupled friends really miss those days, when I would crawl into their tent in the evening with a friendly, "Hey guys! Got room for me? Say, who here likes UNO!" I really kept things lively for them, thrashing between them all night, zipping and unzipping the tent for my multiple bathroom breaks.  And I miss those days too, guys, but it's important for me to have my own space, especially because I'm such a light sleeper. You understand.

My life on these trips is perfectly tailored. My sleeping bag zips up tightly around me, the solitary beam of my headlamp illuminates the pages of the books I've brought to read.  My little stove, which packs to the size of a carton of cigarettes, boils exactly enough water for one french press of coffee, which I drink all by myself. When I get married I'll have to buy everything new, or slice myself in half.

I lie there cozily in the rain after a long day of climbing, admiring myself. It's supposed to really storm tonight but right now the rain is just pattering down, soothing. I hope it storms. I hope it rages. This tent will stand the test, just like it's done before. My body, sore from two days on the cliffs, feels like its being pulled down by magnets to the floor.  I really love this life. I love my tent, my individual pod where I'm dry and safe. Should I ever go homeless, I think as I gaze up into the skylight, I'll just move into this tent. I could do it.

As I'm thinking this, literally as the thoughts are chugging through my mind, there is a loud POP as the front pole snaps in half and the whole shelter collapses on top of me. I'm at the bottom of a heap of mesh and nylon. The whole thing is kaput.  I can think of gentler ways that the world could have reminded me not to get too high on myself, but that's not the way life works now, is it.

I'm too tired to get up and now it is pouring rain. There's nothing to do about it anyhow. The pole was already broken in one place, so the one pole fixing cylinder that came with the tent was already in use.

I should have stayed at the Mecca camp tonight, I think as I squeeze my eyes shut and try to ward off the growing clausterphobia.  I should have asked John and Diana to leave me behind at Mecca with that boy I saw at the bathrooms.

Mecca is the word I use to refer to Smith Rocks. Now, I've always found the over used, worn out sports equals religion metaphor to be totally lame, but there is something unarguably holy about Smith. It is the original- the birth place of sport climbing. And, with its endless rows of jagged peaks and winding, meticulous staircases, it looks like a Gaudi-designed cathedral, like the Sagrada Familia.
Photo by Diana Lee Meeks

 If the park is a cathedral, then the people who drive long distances through the night are pilgrims. We drove out of Seattle at 7:30pm, left the highway for a state route at Salem, and by 1:30am were climbing cautiously over the Cascades. The wilderness that engulfed us in those mountain was thick and cold and dangerous looking.  Diana kept me awake by telling stories from her remote fire fighting days, true horror stories of mad men and yetis. I thought I might have to jump into their tent and sleep between them that night if we didn't motor far away from that black forest. The few towns we passed through were curious- half abandoned, yet they gave off the image of being antonymous, shut off from the outside.

We arrived at our camp site at 3:00am. I ate a mint Oreo for comfort and slept tightly sealed in the back of my car. 

Our first morning at Smith was glorious.

We climbed all day on a wall called The Cinnamon Slab. The holds were tiny and crimpy, and required massive finger strength and strong legs. For once, my head was completely quiet as I led, rising above each bolt with pure concentration. Face climbs are my favorite, because a fall on lead would generally be pretty clean- no walls to smash into. My legs shook hard with the strain, but I felt powerful and precise on the tiny chips of rock. 

Then I sat back and watched John lead some ridiculously bouldery 5.11d I named The Tough One. If you're not down with the lingo, then good. Stay that way. Climbing lingo is really obnoxious, a fusion (there it is again) of computer techie with total stoner: 'Dude, that micro-crimp was surprisingly positive! Sweet!' But, for your edification at this time, 5.11 is about when routes start to really heat up. 5.5-5.10 is gateway drug material. 5.11 is the beginning of the really hard shit.
 John battled The Tough One for over an hour, as I wore out the shutter in my camera and Diana, at the other end of the rope, went numb in the legs.

Now, you may be tempted to look at the pictures below and think again of that terrifically cliched bit about climbing and religion. We may or may not look like members of the devout, draped in our traditional Moonstone and Prana garments, performing the sacred rituals of the righteous.

Please, stop. Stop that right now. We were simply bored (uproariously supportive of John, of course, but bored) on the ground, and we met a new friend named Jordan who entertained us by doing headstands. 

John was on The Tough One for so long, in fact, that evening fell.

He really, really wanted to reach those chains. Look how close he came!

But alas, something had to bring us back for round two....
 It was the end of a perfect day. The weather was stunning. The climbs were solid and endless, as were the snacks. My tent had not yet caved in. The storm was still far off.

This climbing life is addicting. We were as happy as can be. 


Adriana Iris said...

this post is exquisite because i was brought up memories. of the times where i would run off to the woods with friends...the time when i was in the middle of a flash flood trapped in the GA mountains and the time when i lost a 5 people tent somewhere along the highway and all i could think of was that the tent was somewhere on i95 completely opened... thank you from a well fed reader.

(and Ernie) said...

"Magazines love the word fusion." So true. So, so, true.

I also like the totally-not-sport-as-religion metaphors. Hope your tent is salvageable.

Bryan McLellan said...

For my entire life I've run off to northern Maine to get away. Less so now that I live so far from home, but I believe I wasn't even two the first time I walked in to Jerry Pond Camps with my mother and grandmother. I even carried my own wicker backpack and fishing pole I am told. The folks that run the camps are family. They must be in their eighties now. Good people, as they say.

When I was young, you could get two meals a day in the cook camp, but breakfast was your responsibility. I barely remember meals in the large dining room with the other fishermen, but I definitely remember playing Uno and Skipbo with Freda.

I pretty rarely play card games or board games anymore. I don't know I ever really did. But the child inside me keeps a deck of Uno and Skipbo cards around. Just thinking about them still brings a goofy smile to my face.

Planning for equipment problems like broken tent poles feels amusingly hopeless at times. I'm in the midst of making a packing list for a solo three week adventure motorcycle trip to Alaska in June. Everyone has an opinion. When I asked one friend about the trip, whose wife is from Fairbanks and who spends some time up north, he thinks I'm crazy to even take a motorcycle to the haul road, let alone camp up there. He recommends a truckload of supplies. Another friend, from Kodiak, seems to trust my backpacking and motorcycle experience but strongly recommends a shotgun. The chasm between these two pieces of advice can only be filled by starting over, creating a list of essentials from what feels right, and making due with the consequences.

It always turns out just fine.

Baby By The Sea said...

I'd have to disagree - 5.9 is the gateway (at least for me) to some really hard stuff. I'm inspired at how long it didn't take you to get to Smith Rock. Hmm, if we took the 4 o'clock ferry, that would put us in Seattle at about 7:30... Seems a doable road trip to high mountain desert, lovely stone peaks. Just. Might. Have. To.
I'm not religious in the traditional sense, but I'm with you on the silence and awe of a place like Smith, or backcountry skiing in Montana's Beartooth Mountains. Magic stuff there.
Funny tidbit about the broken tent. See, even amidst paradise nothing is perfect. Had that not of happened, maybe you'd still be there at rock's base in pure bliss.
Restaurants love the words *fusion* too.
P.S. Sorry about your head. Peppermint tea helps to sniff and taste as little ones scream about.

John said...

Great pictures. The rock we climbed on the first day is known as the Testament Slab in the Christian Brothers area. The Cinnamon Slab was the second to last wall we climbed at where Diana led a 5.8 and I free soloed that 5.5 before the rain forced us to different rock.
Not suprisingly, "The Tough One" is actually a 5.11d called Heresy(aka 20 Feet of Trying) It is also part of the Cristian Brothers which I might add is not a reference to Christianity but rather the low budget wine available at the supermarket for $8.99 a gallon. Who knew?

Jacqui said...

Lina, this blog of yours is beautiful; it's really beautiful.

I'm glad that I saw you at Irwin's a few weeks ago.