Monday, 20 July 1998. Boulder, Colorado.
Having lived in the Northeast for the past five years, I'd kinda forgotten how warm and friendly southern culture is. Over the weekend I climbed at Seneca with Kate Marquis who is interning in DC with the CIA. (Oops, they'll be after me now... :-)
Seneca is in the middle of nowhere, about three hours west of DC. The back roads in West Virginia made me wish I was driving my Integra instead of my truck. Twists and turns, ups and downs (plenty of 9.5% grades too) make for entertaining driving.
Seneca Rocks is an impressive formation. The cliffs are a narrow fin of rock with two main summits. The rock is the same quartzite found at the Gunks, but the rock is oriented vertically. Gone are the famous Gunks buckets, but nearly making up for it are long crack systems. The Gunks are known for their solid grading; Seneca takes this one step further. Saturday I started out leading Simple J. Malarkey a classic 5.7. The last pitch packed quite a sting with a series of overhangs, which I thought would have been decent Gunks 5.8. West Pole at 5.7+ continued the apparent trend of 5.7s disguised as 5.8s. Kate struggled up West Pole with the motivation that we were going to the summit. The summit is awesomely narrow and exposed. There aren't any anchors to rappel from, so you climb up and down the last 45' unroped. Don't make a mistake here! We finished the day on Ecstasy, an awesome 5.7 again with 5.8 moves. Kate had never been on a hanging belay before, this climb took care of that. On the rappel we got our ropes stuck, so I hiked back to the top and freed the knot. This admitted us to the RAD club -- return after dark club.
Sunday morning in the parking lot, a climber came up to us and said that my dog was very well behaved, and another climber corrected him that it was Tuckerman. Tuckerman had become very well known in a short period. Every climb we went to, people said here's Tuckerman.
We warmed up on Candy Corner, a beautiful 5.5 climb. We rapped after the first pitch and I lead Ye Gods & Little Fishes a great 5.8 one climb over. It seems that Seneca grades all converged on Gunks 5.8s -- go figure. We finished the day on the first pitch of Breakneck (5.6), the only non-classic climb we did the entire weekend.
All the climbers we meet were very friendly and patient. At popular rap stations, people were hanging out chatting, waiting their turn. The summit was crowded and climbers waited at the base for their turn. We meet climbers from a diverse area: some from Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, plus the expected DC crowd. The guy from Ohio said the Gunks are "only" seven hours away and Seneca at four hours is a day trip. I guess I had been spoiled.
From Seneca I drove south to Blacksburg to visit Virginia Tech. I hadn't been back since graduating five years ago. Every where I turned there were new buildings, either newly finished or under construction. I had dinner w/ Craig and Cara Struble. Craig "merely" has to write his thesis. In the morning I meet with Sandy Birch, "Mom" to CS undergraduates. The department has swelled with students. The department has nearly 1000 students (grad & ugrad). This year's entering class is up to 400 students from the previous 300 something. All this with only a few new professors. I guess I'm glad I graduated when I did. After meeting w/ Sandy, I swung by Recognition Research and visited with Mike Finch for a while. RRI has moved three times in the past five years, but their new digs are very nice. Mike gave me a cool demo of OCR on free handwritten text. Quite impressive.
From Blacksburg, I drove to Cincinnati to visit Julie Fitzgerald. Julie is about to bail out on her Ph.D. in philosophy for a position with CYC Inc, a firm working in AI. Tuckerman became quick friends with Joni, Julie's dog. They wrestled most of the two days that I stayed.
Then it was on to St. Joseph, Michigan. Why the bizarre routing? For several reasons, Tuckerman is not going with me out west. He is staying with Kate Schram's mom. (Kate and I raised Tuckerman from when he was a puppy). Tuckerman is going to have a great time hanging out with Ozzie, an eight year old golden, swimming in nearby Lake Michigan.
Deciding to not take Tuckerman is one of the toughest decisions I've ever made. But here's my reasons:
Ok, they're all rationalizations that I need to convince myself I'm doing the right thing. I just hope Tuckerman will understand. Before I left Tuckerman we took one last swim together in Lake Michigan. The wind had kicked the surf up and Tuckerman body surfed the waves back in. Then we walked out to the light house which marks the entrance to St. Joe harbor. I'm a sap, but I cried as I said good-by to Tuckerman. To be honest he seemed more interested in seeing what Ozzie was up to. Heading out of town was pretty rough, and I was on auto-pilot most of the way to Chicago.
- - several parks and climbing areas do not permit dogs
- - some areas such as Yosemite valley have bear problems
- - I'd like to climb some long alpine climbs where I could be away from Tuckerman for over 10-12 hours.
- - At the Gunks & in New Hampshire I know the area well enough to know that it is reasonably safe to leave Tuckerman for a few hours, long enough to climb 3-4 pitches.
In Chicago I visited with Todd Vermeer, a former Boston resident who is now a fourth year med student at U. Chicago. Todd and I climbed Mt. Rainier together back in '94. Todd can't get enough of higher education, so he threw an MBA into the middle of med school. I kinda interrupted nap time, so I was drafted into helping install a monster of an air conditioner. The first moment when you commit to letting the air conditioner stay on its own is pretty nervy. (Second floor apartment).
After Chicago the driving really began in earnest. Even with a late start, I put in 675 miles. I wanted to stop sooner, but couldn't locate the campgrounds in Nebraska. That gave me a shorter day to pull into Colorado. But finding an available campsite was pretty tough, I finally located one way outside of the mountains, in earshot of the highway. Hopefully Colorado will get better...
Ok, this is a little long... I'll try to break up the messages a little better next time.