Joshua Tree and a Season in Review


After three amazing weekends in a row in Joshua Tree, I was feeling a little bummed.  I met Joey at the gym, like usual, and we climbed some random routes without much motivation or enthusiasm.  We weren’t really training, the outdoor fun had come to an end, and I felt like shedding a tear with each move across the grimy plastic holds.  First world problems, I know.

And then, Joey surprised me and said that he planned to head out to the Mohave for one more camping trip.  Four weekends in a row, the bastard!  I just shook my head, knowing that it wouldn’t be possible.  Jasmine is about to give birth, and I have really been pushing the time away from home.  There was just no way to make it happen.

Then, I had an idea.  Zane loves rocks, he enjoys his climbing wall, and he is always sad when I tell him I’m leaving to go on a camping trip.  What if I bring Zane along, giving Jasmine a nice, quiet evening at home?  Would she be cool with it?  It would be one of my last opportunities to spend some fun time with my little bug, before the new baby arrives.  Jasmine thought it was a great idea, and the trip was on.  All kidding aside, my wife can run a clinic called “how to be an awesome spouse.”


Zane exploring Jumbo Rocks

The last three and a half years have really flown by, and even though I’m excited that our family is about to grow, it is bittersweet.  I have been the primary caregiver for all of Zane’s life, and we have spent a lot of time together, just the two of us.  We go on hikes.  We go to the creek to throw rocks. We go to the beach to throw rocks and dig holes in the sand.  We throw limes over the fence and into the creek.  It sure seems like throwing objects accounts for the bulk of our time together, now that I think about it.


San Jacinto Wilderness in 2012

Fatherhood has brought me more than I could have asked, and I have enjoyed every minute of it (almost).  I know there will come a day, and soon at that, where I would happily jump into a time machine to re-live this period of my life, dirty diapers and all.  I’m a nostalgic and sentimental person, and there have been events in my life that remind me to cherish every moment together, as we walk this journey together.  The impending addition to our family will certainly bring new fun and challenges, but it marks a significant change to the relationship that I share with my son.  I will always look back on these years as a special time.

But enough of the touchy-feely business.  We packed the car with as many blankets and pillows as I could fit, I loaded up with cookies and snacks, and we left for Joshua Tree.


Happy boy

We arrived early on Friday and I figured I would find a campsite at Jumbo Rocks, at the very least.  After circling through Hidden Valley and then Jumbo, I was starting to get antsy and worried that the dry lake bed would be our only option.  Poor Zane was also getting antsy after the long drive, and he wanted to get out and play.  We parked at the Skull Rock trail head and spent the next 3 hours hiking around and scrambling up boulders.  He loved every minute of it.


Moving rocks


Corridor exploration

It was surprisingly chilly, and even though I was having fun watching Zane explore the Park, I was wistful at the thought of such a perfect weekend of climbing weather going to waste.  We eventually made our way back to Hidden Valley, where he ate a PB sandwich and some Cheetos, and I watched a climber get shut down on Left Ski Track, a hard route that I eventually want to try.  I’m not sure if the climber appreciated the audience, as I sat there with my chips and salsa, watching while he thrutched up the start of the route.


A budding crack climber?


Zane seems to enjoy friction slab, just like his dad

I sent Joey a message using my satellite texter, letting him know that the campgrounds were full.  I figured we would meet up at HVC, and then leave the Park and camp on BLM land, or maybe the crappy dry lake campground.  I was less than enthused about either option, but it was still nice to be outdoors.

A bit later, Joey texted me that he managed to secure a site at Indian Cove. Unbelievable! This campground fills up months in advance and it was Spring Break, no less. In the most bizarre twist of fate, Joey ran into a park ranger who was the dad of a friend from high school, and the ranger hooked him up.  It’s a long and convoluted story, but just know that if you’re going camping, it’s wise to wear a Yuengling shirt.  I’m sad to admit that I’ve never tried the brew, but man, I do love it.

The beer that saved our trip

The beer that saved our trip

So, we met at Indian Cove and enjoyed some hamburgers stuffed with Beecher’s Flagship cheese and smothered in sauteed onions and homemade chili.  A chili that Jasmine would later refer to as “a total failure” but I thought it turned out alright.


Indian Cove





Unfortunately, the trip would be a short one since it was Aria’s birthday the next day, and we had to head back first thing in the morning.  Zane was not pleased when I told him we had to leave, but I took him on a short hike around the campground and we looked for more rocks and corridors to shimmy through.  I loaded some Donald Duck videos on my phone and we made haste back to San Diego, arriving at the party just in time.  More candy and birthday cake; it was a wonderfully nutritious weekend for the little guy.

It was a great weekend, and I intend to take him camping more often.  I can’t wait til he can drive, so that I can ride in the back with an iPad and snacks.


Zanatos at 3-1/2 years

This trip marked the end of another important milestone, as well.  The end of my first “season” of dedicated climbing/training.  Looking back at my logbook, it’s been almost a year since I started to track my progress and take things more seriously.  Yes, I keep a log.  Actually, I keep multiple logs; tracking such mundane details as my weight and body fat %, to my vegetable and beer consumption. I track my surf sessions and the tide/swell direction, my estimated caloric intake, and the severity of back pain that bothers me on any particular day.  I’m a sick person, and my friends love making fun of me.  I suppose I do this to fulfill some obsessive need to maintain organization and control over my life.  I started the current incarnation of my “fitness log” back in 2005, so I have ten years of data to mine.  It might seem silly, but I have been able to glean some fascinating info from the log.  For example, it’s clear that softball and Brazilian jiu jitsu were truly horrible for my back and neck issues (big surprise, I know).  Running and swimming, themselves, do absolutely nothing for weight loss.  And beer consumption.. well, let’s just say that I noticed there might be a problem when my daily intake shot north of 2 IPA’s per day, and that helped me pull things back to a reasonable, healthy range.  Everything in moderation, as they say.


Fitness Log

As you can see from this excerpt from ten years ago, I had just started climbing (at Vertical Hold gym).  I was getting shut down on V2’s and still struggling with some V1’s.  I was climbing, running, and surfing quite a bit.  And drinking a lot of V8, apparently.  My weight was dropping so I must have been dieting during this period.  A month later, and my log is filled with finger and elbow injuries, no doubt from all the bouldering.

Weight fluctuation

Weight fluctuation 2009-2010

Another fun graph that I enjoy looking at is the 6-month period between 2009-2010.  I was fairly active leading up to this stage, surfing and practicing jiu jitsu regularly, along with frequent kettlebell workouts with Cy.  I must have been eating a lot, too, because my weight hovered in the mid 190’s.  I hiked the John Muir Trail with Steve which led to a precipitous drop in weight (almost 20 lbs. in 2 weeks), after which I successfully maintained a more svelte-version of me for a few months.  Then, I started the Starting Strength barbell program with Cy and my weight skyrocketed over 200 lbs., in roughly 2 months.  My mom, and most nutritionists, would argue that such drastic changes in weight is unhealthy, but I disagree.  Those changes were planned and the direct result of dedicated effort to accomplish goals.  In this case, hiking over 200 miles in less than 2 weeks, and gaining the strength to perform a 400 lb. dead lift.  Neither happened by accident or for lack of planning, and I came out of each experience as a stronger, healthier, and improved version of myself.

Fast forward to 2014-15, and my log is more focused on climbing.  When I started training last year, the first order of business was to lose some weight, since much of climbing can be reduced to a very straightforward ratio: strength to weight.  All of that “useless” leg strength that I gained in 2010 (and some flab) had to go, and I began a weight loss program using intermittent fasting techniques and a bit of self-imposed starvation.  Not as fun as the no-holds barred eating fest when I was lifting, but life isn’t always peaches and cream, especially when one wants to start ticking 5.12’s.


Weight loss

After months of dieting and a final, very memorable bout of food poisoning (thank you, Roundtable Pizza), I dropped down to a low of 160 lbs., a weight I had not seen since my first year of college.  The gains in my climbing performance were significant, especially on anything crimpy or overhanging, where that strength-to-weight ratio becomes especially important.  I ticked my first V6 in the gym, and on-sighted an 11b outside, new personal bests.

Hangboard Progression

During this period, I began my first dedicated hangboard program, using weights and pulleys to progressively gain finger strength in a controlled, predictable manner.  This was just like Starting Strength, only hanging from my fingertips instead of squatting out heavy reps of 5.  The theory and methods, otherwise, are identical, and it is very enjoyable work.  Progress is nearly guaranteed if you invest the effort, and one of the reasons I really enjoyed barbell training.  Unfortunately, my spine is FUBAR, and lifting is no longer a viable option.  The hangboard worked wonderfully, and I added roughly 50 lbs. to each of the trained grips.  That, combined with a body weight loss of 20+ lbs., meant that my arms and fingers were feeling as many as 70 fewer pounds than prior to the start of this training.  Imagine hanging on a door frame with a 70 lb. weight attached to your belt, and then removing it.  That is a bit simplistic in terms of analysis, but you get the idea!

Beer intake

Beer intake

And as I alluded to earlier, I decided to cut back on the beer intake, as well.  This would help with my weight loss, and I figured that a swollen, unhappy liver would do little to improve my performance on the rock.  Unfortunately, beer and climbing compliment each other really well, and this has taken some real willpower to achieve.  I am happy to report that my average daily consumption of alcohol is a very respectable “drink per day” and we will see if I’m able to maintain that over the long term.  I’m hoping that scientists discover that hops contain some crazy antioxidant like red wine.  Then I will be really solid.

If you’re crazy like me, you might find all of this mildly interesting.  More likely, you think it is a total bore, you don’t understand why someone would spend the time tracking such mundane details in life, and you’re ready to slap me with a dead fish.

There is one graph that, sadly, I am unable to produce since I haven’t been tracking the data.  That would be my pizza consumption, or more specifically, pizza construction – a hobby that I got serious about last year.  Based on the amount of Caputo “00” flour that I have gone through (roughly 110 lbs.) I estimate that I have thrown a whopping 350 pies over the last 15 months.  Holy cow, I had no idea.  If I could plot my weight loss and that pizza graph together, I think I should get some sort of award.

Neapolitan Margherita

A Neapolitan Margherita

That’s about it..  I am currently in a holding pattern as our second child is only 3 weeks away from entering the world, and I am trying to enjoy my sleep as much as possible.  Joey is off to the Big Island for 10 days, after which we will begin our third hangboarding progression, which I anticipate could put us in the range of leading 5.12’s (in the gym, at least).  As I review the past year of climbing on paper, I am more than satisfied with the results.  I feel as if I made significant strides towards becoming a solid, well-rounded climber.  I’m finally comfortable on gear, and starting to push myself (and succeed) on harder routes that would have scared the crap out of me, previously.  I have a lot to look forward to, for sure.  Next up: boy or girl?




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