Coming off the high of the annual Homo Climbtastic trip to the NRG, Chris Black, Leader of LA’s Top Out Rock Bottom sent out an email to the other West Coast group leaders. He suggested a late summer, early fall rock trip for us left coasters. We discussed dates and destinations, and at least considered not wanting to steal any glory from the Labor Day Rumney trip. But after realizing that all the likely Rumney trip candidates from the west were on the thread AND too broke to fly out (and furthermore that it was unlikely we’d steal any Rumney attendees) we decided on Labor Day weekend as well. Now you would think it would be easy to find rock climbing in California that is not only hospitable during the month of September, but also approximately equidistant for both the Bottoms and the Flashers. However, as it turns out, there is only one: Clarks Canyon.
Clarks is tucked away behind about 5-6 miles of single-vehicle-wide dirt road. The approach is trecherous… for your car. The road has large rocks in the middle of the road, and bushes that threaten to key your car on either side. It’s like playing “would you rather” with a masochist AND a rapist. However, Gavin seemed to make quick work of the approach in his Celica (I’ll wait for the results from his mechanic before I make it official).
As a co-leader, I wanted to get an early start, so I headed out of San Francisco at 3:30pm on Thursday. I took Friday off, and had the goal of getting 4 days of climbing in. I rolled into Big Springs Campground late Thursday night, and surprisingly, there were still several camping sites open. However, I recounted camping there before. It’s primarily inhabited by enthusiasts of the all-terrain: getting woken up by the “rad-it-tat-tat” of a large 2-stroke engine is not exactly my favorite stroke to wake up to. So I decided that I would continue in the dark down the not so well marked windy dirt roads to find the primitive “Clarks Camp”. When I arrived I was initially thrilled that there were no other campers in the entire campground. So I parked my car and set up camp. The sky was clear and there was no moon. I could see every star, but not much else. There was no wind, and the only noise was the rustling my sleeping pad made when I would move slightly to turn the page in my book. Then, abruptly, there were noises in my campsite.
I shut off my headlamp and began thinking to myself “There is a bear outside my tent! Holy fuck holy fuck holy fuck.” I was all by myself; I, unlike the southerners from HC’10, did NOT have a gun; and I didn’t even think of bringing bear mace. I was armed with a small red button on my car keys labeled “Panic.” However, like most, I had never pressed it. Nor had I read the manual, so I was afraid to press it: in fear that I could not turn it off, and that it might disable the ignition until the battery died sometime after the bear had already gotten used to the noise and chomped happily on my brains. Once the steps seceded into the silence, and my heart rate had dropped below 200, I fell asleep clutching my car keys against my chest with both hands.
The next morning, I was reading: waiting for Chris and David to arrive. I was startled by the same noise I had heard the last night. I spun around quickly to see a bird rustling in the underbrush behind my tent. I still maintain that it was a bear and not a bird.
Chris and David arrived shortly thereafter in a giant, red, gas-guzzling, stereotype-shattering truck: a 1979 Ford Bronco. The both hopped out and claimed the large campsite a hundred feet away from mine, where most of the others would camp and we would have our fires in the evenings. We all jumped in Chris’s truck, and rode the remaining 2 miles of washboard dirt road to the crag. The Bronco, unlike any of the other cars on the trip, had no problem with this road… well… except for Chris’s occasional push of the dashboard back onto it’s fully upright and locked position after being rattled nearly onto his and David’s lap several times. Never before had I felt the almost uncontainable impulse to yell, “YEEEE-HA” followed by a drawn out “Sonofabitch!” But I contained myself.
The 3 of us climbed at Area 13, a great volcanic rock with slabby to vertical climbs filled with pockets typical of volcanic climbs. And although not all of the holds were good, seemingly every hold had a small thumb-catch that would transform a sloper pocket into a bomber pinch. Most of the routes were below 5.10, and were all classics with only a few climbs at or below a 3 star rating; most were in the 4-5 star range. This, we decided, would be a great place to bring everyone tomorrow for a nice long warm up the next morning.
As Friday drew to a close, and since the three of us constituted “the group” thus far, we decided that visiting one of the hot spring tubs would be an excellent pre-dinner activity. So we headed out and checked in, via text of course, on all of the converging Bottoms and Flashers. Dinner was to be at 7:30 in Mammoth Lakes. Now 6:30, we were racing to squeeze in our hot dip. We arrived at one of the tubs in a grassy field a few miles from the Mammoth Airport. There were 4 men in the tub, and 3 were getting out. So we jumped in and started chatting with the one remaining man. He had long hair, and wore a old cowboy hat. He identified as a “local” although he also said that his camper was just over the hill.
The scene couldn’t have been more picturesque: there were a few large bull wondering around in the amber fields as the orange sunlight beaming down on the vast landscape was cut in half by the towering mountains to the west.
The local started to tell us about how he was camping on an indian burial ground. He knew this because he had spent the day digging a hole for his second-hand recliner to nestle. And he told us about his “friends” that put on a show for him after kicking back in said recliner. One was black, one was white, and all the women were “hussies”. The black one and the white one got in fights often, but the white one always seemed to win. “The white won had all the power, naturally,” he said. We all shot a look at each other as if to say, “We’re not in the city anymore.” The local saw this non-verbal communication and qualified his statement, “I’m talking about cows, of course.” We all laughed.
When asked what the local does for work, he rambled off about “unlimited funds” and “giving back to the world.” Which I think meant not much more than, “I have a nice truck, possibly because I won the lottery” and “I sit in this hot tub and act like a crazy hippie.” He then insisted us on “showing us” by taking us on a spiritual journey that was supposed to help us live in the moment. It was so silent that for the first time that I began to hear the Enya-like music coming from his truck, as if on cue. Chris and David looked scared, and I decided to provoke the hippie by reaching out and grabbing his extended hand. He told us all to “reach in, close your eyes, and feel your ass.” I think Chris was about to reach for his because, the hippie qualified, “feel your ass against the tub… your legs warmed by the water… etc etc.” It was actually quite fun to think about all of the things he listed from the wind that seemed to gust almost at his will, and the sunlight on our faces. But at the same time, we all knew this guy was crazy and we had to get to dinner. So I told him we had to leave and asked him his name. “I have many.” So I asked for his favorite. “Spirit wind” he replied. I almost cried trying not to laugh.
At dinner, the group expanded one carpool at a time: first Mark and Derek, then Gavin and Eric. Justin and Dana met us at the campsite about the time we were throwing around Gavin’s magical illuminated disk. (This is not a euphemism. Although I’m not sure it could be, it sounds like it is.) We all set up camp and went to bed, eager for the climbing that tomorrow would bring.