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After Whitney…we were ready for more. Ready for more of the backcountry. Climbing. Running. More of feeling strong, swift and efficient no matter the climb. But first, we needed some rest.
We took a day of rest following our hike out, as well as numerous catch-up meals. We then landed in Bishop, California. Bishop originally was not on our list of places to pit-stop, but many locals highly recommended a short stay and climbing in Owens River Gorge, home to over 700 routes on beautiful volcanic rock. The area included everything from Yosemite quality crack to fantastic face climbing. Only 30 minutes from town, too, are High Sierra climbs like the West Face of Cardinal Pinnacle. This all sounded great to us!
The town of Bishop is a short drive north of Lone Pine – Bishop is bigger in size and host to many more conveniences than Lone Pine, but still a quaint and quirky mountain town. It had a “real” grocery store of which we had not seen in about two weeks, as well as a fully stocked climbing shop that finally had materials we needed to repair and replace a few pieces of our gear. Bishop also is home to a ‘world famous’ bakery – Erick Schat’s Bakery. We had noticed it a few times as we drove by its cute, outdoor patio, packed with people and always busy. With one stop we quickly realized why it was so popular! Everything from the baked goods to the deli sandwiches were delicious (the bakery produces upwards to 25,000 loaves of bread a day). With this one stop, however, we also realized that we have been living in the woods, so to speak, for quite a while now…the crowded bakery full of tourists tested both of our patience!
The first two nights in the area we camped in Bureau Land Management (BLM) land just outside of our initial destination, the Owens River Gorge. Our camp sat at over 6,000ft, providing airy views of the High Sierras and a cool place to escape the heat below in Bishop. BLM land has been our go-to on this trip – the camping is free, dispersed, quiet, and allows us to have a private sanctuary where the dogs can meander and point at everything that moves. The gorge, we learned, is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water and, technically, it is trespassing to climb there. Thankfully, since the development of the rock surged in 1989, that rule has not been enforced! We spent two days climbing in this unique place. The approach took us over 300ft down into the gorge where we found an oasis of green along the flowing river. The first day we worked our trad, pushing the grades, while the second day we returned to sport climbing. We quickly realized that we had been crack climbing for so long that the vertical and sometimes overhanging sport walls felt foreign and not near as secure. Overall, we started realizing what the few weeks of continuous climbing and running has done to us – we felt strong, fit and confident. We will be back to visit Owens River Gorge again!
It just got better from here. We headed 30 minutes west of Bishop towards the High Sierras once again. We found a perfect campsite (luckily) called Bishop Park. We parked, set up camp, explored the riverside below our site, and gawked at our next venture. Cardinal Pinnacle (4 pitches, 5.10b, 550ft) stands above the small settlement of Aspendell and was clearly visible from our new home. The sun lit the tower as it set. We could not wait to get on it.
But………..the following morning, the alarm went off. We stretched our tired bodies, looked at each other and silently agreed, “rest day”. At this point, we had climbed nearly 20 days with only four days off. We were mentally and physically spent.
For the record, we both are terrible at rest days. We get antsy, bored and just are not sure what to do with ourselves. This day was different, however. We set up our double hammock next to the clear running river. Read. Napped. Played with the dogs. Played with my camera. Casually rode our bikes. And simply enjoyed the scenery around us. Cardinal Pinnacle still loomed in the distance. By the end of our rest day, we were excitedly organizing gear and preparing to saddle up once again.
Cardinal Pinnacle is a popular rock. It offers stunning views of the Sierras, excellent granite crack lines and pitches of freaking fun. With all of this in mind, we opted to start early, hiking and scrambling up the talus (boulder) field to the base of the climb, racking our harnesses and climbing by 8:00 AM. The route was to be in the shade in its entirety, but the temperature was the perfect chill – cold enough to keep your wits, but also the feeling in your fingers. As we climbed, each pitch got better and better. The first pitch involved one very exposed move over an arête (a small ridge-like feature or a sharp outward facing corner on a steep rock face). The arête was taller than me, making the move a blind one. Eric had led this pitch and, while I could not see him on the other side, he assured me the holds and footing were there. The second and third pitch consisted of outstanding clean cracks that flowed perfectly for us both. Move after move was flawless, each of us finding solid hand and toe jams. The climb was an absolute blast. We made two open air rappels to the base again and by this time there were four other parties working their way up the climb or to the base. We bagged Cardinal before breakfast. Early bird gets the worm they say.
We giddily made our way back to the campervan and enjoyed a meal at Cardinal Village, a small and charming cabin resort we had discovered on bikes the day before. Cardinal Pinnacle sat, once again, impressively above us. The sun warmed our faces. And gosh, we were content, overjoyed, ecstatic, and every other word in the book you can think of to describe life’s highs after doing what you love.
A visiting resort family and park ranger were strolling by and noticed us climbers, looking dirty and elated as you would after a fun adventure. They asked, “Did you climb that rock this morning?”
We replied, “Yeah!”
The ranger said, “Awesome!! We were watching you guys from down here the whole time!”
The family asked us questions about what it takes to climb something like that, joking with us that even the hike up to the rock would have killed them. They mentioned that it was clear we are passionate about climbing and how cool that was. With a few congrats, they all continued on their way.
This climb, and all to follow, got me thinking. Not only are we lucky to have this opportunity to travel and do what we love for almost three months, but what a grand thing to have the chance to reconfigure what matters in our lives.
While climbing, running and skiing are important to us and are certainly the activities folks see us doing most, I have had a chance to understand our ambitions behind these things, and life, with clarity. Both of us love the things we do in both work and play. We are passionate go-getters who do not settle for the mediocre. What I have realized is that the passion for our climbing, running and skiing should be (and is in many ways) applied to every aspect of our lives. Work. Family. Friends. Our dogs. Our environment. Volunteering. And so much more. While this blog, social media posts and pictures shared with family and friends are focused around what we are climbing and conquering, there is so much more to it. We want to approach all parts of our life with the same passion and energy that we do with climbing. We want every ounce of our energy to be spent in feeling full.
Certainly, there will always be an unbalanced piece of the pie, and there will certainly never be an end to the attempt to pour passion into every part of our existence. But, it does not mean we should not try. Never do we want to stop testing limits, working hard and strengthening our relationships with others and ourselves. We have had dirty fingernails since we left Breckenridge, applying that such passion to climbing walls. Literally and figuratively, I hope we always have dirty fingernails.
More to follow about our extended stay in our next destination, Yosemite. Wishing you all a Happy 4th of July and dirty fingernails.
FUN FACTS: One month in, what have we learned about each other?
What Heather has learned about Eric:
1. Eric loves to sing though he is almost always off-tune. But he does not care…he belts out everything from country to rap at the top of his lungs.
2. Ketchup + Doritos = Deliciousness. For him anyways. I tried the combination and believe my expression was similar to his when he tried coffee.
3. Milkshakes. The man loves his milkshakes.
4. Alright, are you ready for sappy? Eric will often stop what he is doing, grab me by the shoulders and ask, “Have I expressed enough to you today how much I love you?” I think I have a winner.
What Eric has learned about Heather:
1. She loves lizards, A LOT! As in I’m 10-ft above my last piece, scrambling through a crux and all I hear from below is giggling and ‘Oh look, a lizard dancing on the rock!’
2. She sings when she’s happy and will break out at random times and start dancing in the passenger seat to any kind of music whatsoever.
3. Heather is the strongest (physically and mentally) and funniest friend, climbing partner, road-trip sidekick that I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my life.
4. She is absolutely as beautiful after 3-weeks absent a real shower as any other time. And nothing is hotter than a girlfriend taping and racking up to attack a pitch!