Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Owens River Gorge is F*cking HOT

And not so much in a bare-midriff, short-shorts kind of way. We thought, "hey, you can see snow from here. It's not going to be hot," but we were wrong. We imagined that, due to the distance we'd put between ourselves and Las Vegas, that we'd gone somewhere cooler. We thought, "it'll still be really nice if we get out there a little after 7."

We thought "hey, the approach is only 600 yards from the parking area to the routes we want."

What we didn't realize, and what the guidebook failed to emphasize, was that the parking area was, in fact, at the top of the gorge and the 600-yard approach was straight down.

I'm not really afraid of much, but falling off cliffs and bees are two things I am afraid of. The steep, rocky gully leading to the river had both. If somebody had been there to show me pictures of what I would look like when I became old and wrinkly, it would probably have become the scariest experience of my life.

At the bottom of the gorge, we found most of the routes in our range were in direct sunlight. Up the river a little way, however, was a wall with a promising-looking 5.6 and 5.7 that was in the shade. We trotted up the road (now why couldn't we have just driven down here? I wondered) until we got to what the guidebook generously termed a bridge and was actually broken pieces of pressure-treated lumber composite tied together messily with sun-bleached rope. A dark-green plant of some kind inflicted painful red bumps on Tyson's arm as he negotiated the crossing. Anxious to avoid a similar fate, I turned my back on the poisonious plant and wound up with a welt on my ass instead. Here I am later modeling it for the camera.

We decided to climb a route just at the bottom of the gully we'd climbed down, an ominious reminder that we'd later have to climb up that same slope. After scaling the first 40 feet, our toes were burning from the direct rays of the sun on the black rubber of our shoes, the rock was becoming uncomfortably hot to the touch, and the sight of the path back up to the car sapped our strength. I hauled Tyson back up quickly to clean off our gear, then we sat in the shade staring morosely at the top of the cliffs.

Although we briefly contemplated holing up in the gorge until near sunset, we realized it was still 11:00 and we'd have a lot of waiting to do for the place to cool off. The climb out was incredibly hot and icky. When I finally staggered to the top, I felt like I was going to throw up, but instead Tyson had the van on with the a/c running and a cold Vitamin Water for me to drink. Then we hightailed it up to Mammoth, where the ski area is still open for another week.

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