Links of the Week (6/08/2020)

National Parks are opening and I wish I was there…

With a three-day weekend before them, Southern Californians will have to weigh the lure of desert vistas against the chance of crowds and the challenge of rising temperatures, expected to reach the 90s by Tuesday.

Even though I’m not back home to enjoy my state’s parks opening, I’m happy to see that they are.

Joshua Tree just opened, before a three-day weekend. Here’s what to expect


Although tens of millions of American children show no medical symptoms of COVID-19, their education, mental health, and development have suffered because of the virus. Adults need to help them regain normalcy. One way to do that is by opening summer camps as soon as possible. Children face a relatively small risk of harm from summer camps, the risk that their participation poses to adults can likely be managed, and the benefits of giving families at least the option of sending children to camp are substantial.

Amen to that.

Summer Is Approaching. Bring Camp Back.


Earlier this month, for the first time in recent memory, pronghorn antelope ventured into the sun-scorched lowlands of Death Valley national park. Undeterred by temperatures that climbed to over 110F, the animals were observed by park staff browsing on a hillside not far from Furnace Creek visitor center.

​Very cool.

‘We’ve never seen this’: wildlife thrives in closed US national parks


When Italian towns began offering houses for sale for little more than $1, they inspired legions of dreamers to take a gamble on moving to a remote corner of Italy.

Although spending a few thousand dollars extra on renovating the property was usually part of the deal, it was sweetened by the prospect of a new life in an idyllic corner of a beautiful country.

And then the coronavirus struck, plunging the world into crisis, with Italy among the worst affected countries.

🤯

They bought a $1 house in Italy, then Covid-19 struck

Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport

Climbing and business CAN go together…

Bought this book a while back because I have always enjoyed reading about the adventures of Yvon Chouinard and his fellow climbers. This book sprinkles in a bit of business and it’s neat to see how lessons learned on a mountain can apply in the office too.

Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport

Thoughts on the ‘7 Best Portable Solar Panels in 2020’

Start with these links for your own solar power research…

After I bought some BioLite campsite lights recently, I got interested in various solar panels to charge them.

I read about BioLite’s native 10 watt solution, big brand names like Goal Zero, and scoured various websites like Wirecutter and Outdoor Gear Lab for reviews on all the options out there.

BioLite Solar Panel 10+

Needless to say there are a lot of options out there.

I am currently teetering on the edge of buying one of these since my family is finally getting to the point where we can start doing some extended camping trips. I do not have a direction that I have gone yet…but I tend to err in the direction of getting a bit more than I need.

Personally, I feel that this gives me the peace of mind that I won’t need to “upgrade” in the future when/if I realize that I want more capability.

image via ecotality.com

The below linked article doesn’t cover EVERYTHING you need to start your research on solar panels and other outdoor power options (see the Wirecutter and Outdoor Gear Lab articles I linked to above too)…BUT…it has some one of the best “introduction to solar panels” write up I found.

Plus it links to 4 or 5 other types of “best solar panel for…” articles. It’s a great place to start if you’re curious.

Solar power varies according to multiple environmental conditions. Solar irradiance values, shadings, temperature, and the amount of direct sunlight exposure changes the output power of your solar panel and can change the charging speed of your solar charger. Moreover, if you are purchasing solar panels for off-grid boat applications, you will probably use a battery pack and a charge controller. Some energy will be lost in the energy conversion process as well. Therefore, you must estimate the size of the solar panel a little above the specific demands if you want it to charge within a single day.

Ecotality.com

Let me know your thoughts on your favorite solar power options!!!

7 Best Portable Solar Panels in 2020 (Review)

Here is another great website that gets more into the technical style reviews…VERY thorough.

Mobile Solar Power or the site YouTube Channel

Links of the Week (6/01/2020)

The Fourth Estate, virtual Park tours, and climbing gear…

Climbing gear should be regularly inspected to make sure it’s not only functioning optimally, but also safe to use. Most of us know this, but in practice, may not examine this critical safety equipment as often as we should. Now, as we’re all stuck at home and away from the cliffs due to the pandemic, it’s an excellent time give your gear a check-up. This guide breaks down how to inspect soft and hard goods, what to look for, and when to retire your climbing gear.

Sometimes I go through my gear when I can’t itch the scratch that is calling me outside. Inspecting it is a good idea.

How to Inspect Your Climbing Gear and When to Retire It


Over the past few months, the reverberating shockwaves of COVID-19 have forced much of the world into a state of isolated lockdown. As social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders come into effect around the globe, more and more people are finding themselves stuck indoors for weeks on end. The result has been the spread of a second, psychological pandemic: cabin fever.

Gorgeous.

Google Brings the Great Outdoors to Your Living Room


A good wide angle lens is a fantastic and versatile tool that can help you create all sorts of interesting images, but they can also be quite expensive. However, when you dive into the world of vintage lenses, there are quite a lot of great deals to be had. This great video features three awesome vintage wide angle lenses, all of which you can buy for under $100 on the used market.

​When you finally can get outside again, pop on that wide-angle lens to capture those landscapes.

3 Great Wide Angle Prime Lenses for Under $100


The term Fourth Estate or fourth power refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. Though it is not formally recognized as a part of a political system, it wields significant indirect social influence.

The “Fourth Estate” or “Fourth Branch” is an interesting concept if you chew on it a bit.

Fourth Estate – Wikipedia

Best Eco-Friendly Campsite Lights

These are great for camping or your patio….

I had heard about Bio-Lite a few years back from their innovative wood burning camp stove.

Now they’re having a sale on their Nano Grid system and I jumped right in – beginning with these inexpensive SiteLight Minis.

I love the fact that this company is focused on renewable, eco-friendly system of outdoor gear. This light system is pretty neat too:

Bring indoor-inspired lighting to the outdoors with this rechargeable system of modular lighting & power. Anchored by 3 edge-lit lanterns providing bright, even light without any wasted space, the NanoGrid can light multiple spaces efficiently and easily with minimal setup. Included SiteLights provide overhead illumination, replacing harsh shadows with welcome ambient light. Designed to work together seamlessly, find the right light for any job with this kit.

You can find the individual lights here on Amazon. (the minis are only $15-$20!!!)

Climbing By the Rivers of Zion

The freedom and stress of climbing my first “big wall”…alone.

In 2010, I scraped together a couple days off around the first weekend in March. I hadn’t planned on going to Zion by myself and climbing my first big wall solo…

But there I was.

“Oh shit”, I thought. “Am I stuck on the side of this rock wall? Am I going to have to cut my rope? But if I do that how will I rappel?…”

My thoughts began to race as my desperation increased and my heart slowly sank in to my stomach.

“What the f#$k am I going to do?”


Photo by Zack Melhus on Pexels.com

Zion National Park was established in 1919, is located in southwest Utah, and is best known for its dramatic desert canyon landscapes and natural rock arches.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile (590 km2) park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles (24 km) long and up to 2,640 ft (800 m) deep. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park has a unique geography and a variety of life zones that allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches. (Via Wikipedia)

If you have never been, I’d put it on your list. It is incredible.


I had been trying to get a climbing partner to head out there with me but hadn’t received any definite yes’s from my buddies. This led me to practice my roped soloing just to get SOME sort of practice. Finally I got someone to answer the siren call that is familiar to all climbers and we made plans to drive out to Zion.

However, a few days before I left, he got a job he’d been interviewing for and had to bail.

Damn!

So it was off to Zion all by my lonesome.

Freedom in the Journey

I loaded up all my climbing gear in to my black Jeep and drove that stick shift beauty across the southwest from one beautiful location to the next. Driving across that part of the United States can feel like driving in another world. You cruise across rust red landscapes and suddenly dive in to sheer canyons that are hidden until you are right on top of them.

The freedom you feel in a landscape this beautiful is difficult to describe.

All I can do is encourage you to stop hesitating and just drive….which is what I did. Eight hours after leaving San Diego, I was in beautiful Zion National Park.

Watchman Campground

Watchman Campground the next morning

Freedom…and Stress

March in Zion is still pretty cold and I awoke to the sight of my breath and frost on the outside of my tent.

Nevertheless, I had to get my day started, and the anticipation to start this climb pulled me out of my warm sleeping bag.

After breakfast, I drove over to the pull-out across the road from the Cerberus Gendarme climbing area. Here is a shot of where I was climbing…not a bad spot huh?

Red arrow points to the area where I was going to climb.
Red arrow points to the area where I was going to climb.

That little red pin on the left?…that is Angel’s Landing (a well known tourist attraction and hike).

Touchstone ascends the wall just to the left of the obvious crack/corner that goes most the way up.

Touchstone Wall

A mixture of anticipation and worry began to creep in as I looked at 800-1000 feet of climbing that I was about to try.

Am I really going to climb that without a climbing partner?


One thing you have to realize about climbing solo (roped)…you do ALL the work.

Normally you have a climbing partner to split the work with you, alternating between climbing and belaying. Yet, when you rope solo, you actually end up doing 3 times the amount of work you normally would.

Here is the partner climbing equation as a baseline for comparison:

climb the 100ft pitch, fix anchor, belay your partner up to you = 100ft of work (for 1 person)

Repeat by number of pitches (8 for this climb) = 800ft of work

Here’s the rope solo work equation:

climb the 100ft pitch, fix anchor + rappel 100ft back to your previous anchor + ascend the 100ft of rope you fixed to the anchor you just climbed up to = 300ft of work

Repeat by number of pitches (8 for this climb) = 2400ft of work

I was about to climb 2400ft to ascend 800ft!


The Climb

(warning: lots of climbing jargon going forward)

yeah...he's a climber too
yeah…he’s a climber too

With a nice short approach I was looking up at the bolt ladder first pitch in no time:

pitch 1 bolt ladder
pitch 1 bolt ladder

While I was very happy that this well established climb had some fixed hardware, the first 5 or 6 bolts are definitely REACHY. I’m 5’8” with a reach a little longer than my height and I had to top step in my etriers like a mo-fo. But I got them all and made my way to the second pitch with the short roof.

You can see the 2nd pitch’s roof section (triangular shadow I think) above my lead line on the upper left:

I rapped the 1st pitch and got ready to clean.

I was surprised at how straight forward the roof section was. The 3rd pitch was pretty straight forward and went smoothly.

Here’s the view looking down from the top of the 3rd (or maybe 2nd) pitch. Either way...fun shot
Here’s the view looking down from the top of the 3rd (or maybe 2nd) pitch. Either way…fun shot

Tired but happy, I called it for the day; fixed my two lines and headed back to camp.

The next day I didn’t expect how tiring re-ascending 300 feet of fixed ropes can be. Once I got back up to my previous day’s high point, I snapped a couple pics of Angels Landing behind me:

Angel's Landing behind me
Angel’s Landing behind me

Here is a closer shot of Angel’s Landing. Other climbs like, ‘Prodigal Sun’ goes up to the right of the light, square notch and ‘Angel’s Hair’ follows the crack system to the left of it:

Angel's Landing wall
Angel’s Landing wall

After about 500 feet I think I got off route because I ended up doing some very sparsely protected face climbing way to the left of the next anchors.

My ability to curse like a sailor was made well known by my echos throughout the canyon…but I got through ok (even though I had to run it out some). I don’t think it would have been as bad if I wasn’t solo, but climbing solo always adds in that extra factor that spices up a climb. Being off route doesn’t help any either.

At the top of the 5th I took 10 minutes to refuel and actually look around and had my WOW moment when I got this view that I don’t think too many people get.
At the top of the 5th I took 10 minutes to refuel and actually look around and had my WOW moment when I got this view that I don’t think too many people get.
pitch 6, touchstone wall

Now it was on to pitches with more free climbing.

The 7th pitch was another interesting one with the long crack that took #4 C4s, but as I only had two I had to leap frog them all the way up (at least 20-30 feet) to the short chimney squeeze.

I stopped there as there was a bunch of slings/ropes around a huge fixed chock stone and I was running out of light and just ran out of water.

I knew the top of the 7th ends at the tree but I made the call to start rappelling from where I was and thanks to all the fixed anchors, rappelling the route was very straight forward even by headlamp.

The Scare

Rappelling by yourself is a lot quicker than with a partner, but the risks are all your own and thus MUCH higher.

I had already descended over 400 feet and had about 300 to go, when I stopped at an anchor station and began to pull my ropes down to me.

Now the key when pulling your rappelling ropes is to make sure that all of that rock above you won’t snag the rope you are pulling up through the anchor you rappelled from…on the way up OR on the way down. A stuck rope can mean a long cold night stuck to the side of a rock wall while you figure out how you get down, or hope to flag down rescue in the morning.

I was pulling my rope at the top of the 3rd pitch (so the ropes were through the 4th pitch anchor) when all of a sudden I couldn’t pull it any more. Thinking I was just tired I gave it a bit of a whipping motion to get it away from the rock, hoping that the momentum would get it to move again.

It didn’t.

As I whipped the rope more and more hoping I could free it from whatever it was snagged on, my heart began to beat faster.

“Oh shit”, I thought. “Am I stuck on the side of this rock wall? Am I going to have to cut my rope? But if I do that how will I rappel?…”

My thoughts began to race as my desperation increased and my heart slowly sank in to my stomach.

“What the f#$k am I going to do?”

The Calm

Hanging from the side of the wall, darkness now fully descended on the canyon, my thoughts settled. Then an interesting thing happened…a moment of calm and clarity came like the sudden ceasing of a storm.

I really only had three choices.

  1. Cut the rope
  2. Hunker down for a cold night
  3. Give one last full body weight pull on the rope

When you are backed in to a corner with nowhere to go, clarity can hit you like a slap in the face.

”Full body weight pull it is then” I thought.

I have never pulled so hard on a rope in my 10+ years of climbing.

All of a sudden I dropped…

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Then…just as suddenly…I was jerked to stop by the anchor I was tethered to. With a whirling, whipping sounds that zipped through the air, my rope flew by my head.

It was free!!

Somehow I had pulled my rope free and it was now hanging below me patiently waiting to be of use again.

With a hoot that echoed down the canyon I set up my rappel and started down to the dark canyon floor. A couple pitches later I was finally down to the car and utterly exhausted. I threw my gear down and made my way back to camp once again:

The Bitter End

Knot terminology:

Bitter end: the very end of the line

Climbing big walls is a push-pull relationship.

You will get psyched to have a project to work up to, obsess over the details, read about it, and even dream about it as the rock pulls you to it.

Then you actually start climbing.

Over the years, I have heard people describe Big Wall climbing as “Type 2” fun.

Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.

That is spot on.

So, even as the fear of being stuck, the nerves of climbing off route, and the exhaustion was still fresh…that very next day, I drove around and just enjoyed the park.

Reveling in the fact that I had just been a speck on the side of these thousand foot monoliths, I sat in the back of my Jeep, ate my lunch, and stared up at what might be my next climb.

one last B&W picture I took
one last B&W picture I took

World Travel Map: Past Adventures and Lands Yet to Explore

A gorgeous way to display your adventures…

I am an absolute sucker when it comes to quality items like this that not only display where I’ve been…but remind me where I have yet to go.

The World Travel Map by Conquest Maps is a unique canvas map that comes in various sizes, with pins that let you show off where you have had the chance to travel to. As someone in the military (with my wife former miltiary too) this is pretty fun for us.

You can pick between a smaller map or larger panel style versions, like what I bought.

If you’re curious and want to ad a dash of adventure travel to your walls, these are so good.