Our adventure starts as so many do: playing gear Tetris with an already-full car, followed by a brief stop to pick up breakfast tacos. Then, we are off, leaving Austin behind for the dusty scrub desert of southwestern Texas. We make several stops at forlorn gas stations in the middle of nowhere, and finally around 7pm we make it into the park and are reignited by the stark change of scenery—a rugged, chossy mountain range rising into the dusk like towers guarding secrets. We snap photos at a pullout, hungrily scarf dinner at the lodge, and drive to our campsite where we sleep on dirt under a full moon to the lullabies of distant coyotes. Continue reading Running Wild
Part I: Airplane Mode
[listen: Morning, Tom Rosenthal]
Last night we watched the sun go down for hours — stood in silence to watch a coming tide of sun-seared clouds roll, tuck under, twist, and scatter as they hurled themselves upon the stonewall of our volcano fortress for the night; slept under the shadow of a boulder cracked in two that falls closer to earth inch by inch, year by year.
[Photos from an overnight on the Timberline Trail, with an epic campsite in Paradise Park]
“Well, now that we’re not going to summit, and it’s 5am, and we’re awake, do you want to go climb something?” he asks after my boots have turned my feet excruciatingly numb and left us to bail on Hood. “Let’s find something really dumb,” he says, pulling out the guide book. “Like, chossy and just stupid.
I take another sip of coffee, contemplating my level of tiredness after only an hour of sleep. “I’m in.” We settle on a chimney system leading to a top out on a curious sounding pillar: The Alpenjæger, 5.4 R
Alex decides my stoke factor may be in jeopardy of waning due to lack of rest; he puts on Beyonce’s Sorry, and I am instantly buoyed into jubilance again. We get breakfast burritos, pick up some gear from his house, and head for the Gorge.
Half the holds are grass hummocks and loose blocks that wiggle in our hands, but once we enter the chimney we realize it’s as deep as a slot canyon. Everything is dirty and we’re breathing in moss, and half the pitons are rusted but they’re there — and it’s the most ridiculous and fun adventure climbing maybe either of us have ever done.
As I follow the final pitch straight up through the runout shoulder off-width to a grassy “slab” of basalt fractures waiting to be pulled like loose teeth, I am singing and giggling to myself while I stem across the gap. Rocks and grass fall between my legs into the chasm, I clean gear, and laugh when I look up to see Alex belaying me off a tall shrub.I have to traverse left around a bulge of grass-clod basalt bombs to make it to our improvised shrubbery belay. It appears we may be one of the few parties to climb this route in decades, given the lichen-covered tat hanging forlornly at a few pitons along the way, and primarily signaled by the sheer lack of anchoring gear, features to sling, and other mentioned descent routes at the top of the Alpenjæger pillar. Hence, our shrub station.
Before arranging a rappel off a cordalette anchor that we donate to the cause of anyone else crazy enough to go up there, we lie down in the wildflowers and grass atop the pillar. Alex pulls out our snack rewards: “I’ve got crushed Oreos, a packet of almond butter, and three shotblocs.” We pass them back and forth, a fitting picnic for an adventure mountaineering epic.
After counting snake holes and cutting away more old slings, we rapped the south side and bushwhacked down a ravine strewn with the decaying remains of old cars and shopping carts, muddy runoff, and groves of stinging nettles.
Upon finally reaching the train tracks below, we ate handfuls of the first wild blackberries of summer, our rack of gear tinkling and clanging as we walked out. What could have been a bummer of a day was instead one of fantastic, mutually fueled stoke, and for me, pure happiness. Thanks Alex!
You keep talking
about a place I’m supposed to
get excited for,
to save my pennies for,
should be looking forward to
all the comfort there, with its exquisite debts and hard-earned luxuries like
couches, which I suppose are nice but
Have you ever read
the lichen on a sheet of
granite with your fingertips,
searched its syntax for
an origin to the tangle of electricity-addled neurons that got you here
—dancing, terrified, upon a
batholithic monument to futility;
where you come to know gravity
in the verses you sing
under your breath
in an attempt to keep from falling,
in a lingua terra
we cannot write
can only feel, like
Being rained on while swimming or
the silence before a crash?
This is where my soul goes
while you’re talking about couches;
Where it smells like ferns and cinnamon, and
the story is told without words.
I keep waiting for you
to walk up out of the trees, smiling
Please don’t tell me you’ve seen enough of the stars or
That feather pillows are better;
I got all the maps laid out.
We got a million grass-covered hills to lie on and
argue about constellations
until the moon is high enough
to start climbing.
Do you remember what it felt like—
the first time you struck flint to steel
and made fire?
I’ll be in the car.