Sunday, May 9, 2010

I heart NY

The past few weeks I have had the opportunity to do some traveling for work which has been pretty fun since it has been mostly to worthwhile cities: two weeks ago I went to San Francisco for a day to give a presentation to a client, last week I went to San Jose (this is why the “mostly” qualifier accompanies the “worthwhile cities” descriptor) for a trade show, and this week I had the chance to go to New York to present to another client. The client presentations were pretty fun, I like presenting things where I feel like I have a good handle on the material and can explain it well. The trade show was just medium, it probably would have been better if I was more excited about hanging out with dorks (the other attendees of course, not me and my Synapse colleagues, we employ only the hippest engineers).

I had been to San Francisco a number of times before (usually for the IEEE solid-state circuit conference that is held there every year) as well as to San Jose (I lived there one summer for an internship during undergrad), but I had never been to the Big Apple so that is the one I was most excited about. Dylan and I flew out Wednesday morning and arrived in time to have some delicious dinner at a Venezuelan restaurant before spending the rest of the night working on our presentation for the next day. Thursday was spent at the office of our client doing top secret stuff (everything we do is top secret) which I can't talk about, and after finishing up we headed back to the apartment we were staying at. We had taken a cab there but chose to walk on the way home and it was fun to experience the feel of the city a bit more, walking by some interesting buildings such as the one below:

The biggest thing I noticed about the city was how vibrant it felt, there were tons of people walking everywhere (and no shortage of unusual characters), lots of people sitting out on street-side patios, people playing outdoor speed chess in parks, and lots of cyclists (though I think Seattle just might have a higher hipster:normal cyclist ratio, though New York definitely has more people on folding bikes).

I had decided to spend my evening checking out a local climbing gym, and I invited Dylan to join me but he had some more work to do so he declined the invitation. After unsuccessfully trying to convince him that his priorities were backwards I gave up and boarded the metro, headed for the Manhattan Plaza Club, which from what I could glean from the internet had the most extensive bouldering in Manhattan. Manhattan has a strange phenomenon of having climbing gyms associated with health clubs, my gut instinct about this is to be skeptical about how good the gyms could possibly be if they are targeted at health club clientelle, but then I was under the impression that everything in New York is top shelf quality so they must be good despite the health club association. Well, it turns out that my initial reaction was correct, and the verdict on Manhattan health club climbing gyms is .,. WEAK! The gym was super small, not very high, and almost all of the bouldering was vertical. A vertical bouldering wall is just wasted space, nobody wants to get strong by climbing vertical finger tweaker problems. The only explanation I can think of is that property costs in Manhattan are too high to build a worthwhile climbing gym, maybe there are better gyms in the outlying areas of New York City.

I still had some fun on the one section of overhung wall, and after the gym closed at 10pm I made my way back to the apartment via Times Square, where I was blown away by all the giant LED advertising screens. There were lots of people (and lots of police, the police:civilians ratio seemed to be almost as high as the ratio of cabs:normal cars on the streets during the day) milling around so it was pretty fun to soak in some of the energy as I made my way back to the apartment.

I wanted to get out for a run in Central Park at some point, I had made a half-hearted effort to wake up early enough to do this on Thursday but the time change was too much for me to surmount. I had better success on Friday, waking up at 7am and riding the metro north to run a loop around the perimeter of the park. This was pretty fun, as it was another beautiful day, all the trees were green with their new leaves, and there were lots of runners, walkers, and cyclists out. One strange thing is that all the runners seem to run in the bike lane, despite the presence of dedicating running/waking paths that are adjacent to the road. I would be bothered by this if I was a cyclist in New York, but maybe this isn't a problem because all the cyclists soon switch to running due to the lack of decent riding in the city (this is just speculation, maybe NY is actually a great city in which to be a cyclist).

After completing my loop I made my way back to the apartment where I showered and grabbed a coffee before heading back to our clients office for more secret activities. We ran out of secret stuff to work on around 3pm, at which point I was left with a few hours to explore the city before my flight departed JFK Airport at 7pm. My friend Chris used to live in NY and the top of his recommended to-do list of activities while visiting the city had been to go to Wall Street and feel the money and power in the air. Also high on the list was to check out the headquarters of Goldman-Sachs, the “Kings of Thieves”. I was tempted to do this, but it would take me in the opposite direction of the airport so I decided to save it for another trip (I will be back in early June on another work-related trip) and instead go check out the Guggenheim Museum. My walk there took me through Central Park again, it was nice to enjoy it again at a more leisurely pace:

While I knew I didn't have enough time to make a visit to the interior of the Guggenheim worthwhile, I had been under the impression that the collection was housed in an impressive building that would be worthwhile checking out in itself. This was not the case. As a non-architecture enthusiast I was pretty underwhelmed by the building, I have seen parking structures that have a similar look and are a lot bigger (the one at the Salt Lake City Airport comes to mind, it also has the added bonus of being near some really good mountains). Maybe I was missing something, but next time I will have to go inside and maybe that will be more stimulating.

I was able to get a really good deal on a “I heart NY” t-shirt ($4) from a vendor just outside the museum, so at least my Guggenheim adventure wasn't a total write-off. By this point it was time to head to the airport, so I made my way back to JFK and boarded the plane that I am sitting on as I am writing this (though I won't be able to post it until I am back in Seattle on the weekend). One other thing I learned on this trip (much to my dismay), is that it is apparently okay to bring annoying little dogs on planes. I used to thing it was bad to sit near a screaming baby, it is even worse to have to sit near a whining and barking dog. Babies might be annoying when they yell and scream, but at least they are little people. I think the only way someone should be allowed to bring their dog on board is if they sign a waiver saying that the first time the dog barks the stewardess will then confiscate it and throw it out the emergency exit (owners would be free to equip their dogs with parachutes before they board the plane).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Leavenworth Bouldering

Having celebrated the departure of winter the weekend prior with our final backcountry ski adventure of the year, this past weekend Fras and I decided to usher in summer with a weekend of bouldering in Leavenworth. I was plagued with elbow problems throughout the winter that prevented me from logging much gym time, but those have subsided recently and I have been getting into the gym regularly for the past month so I was eager to test my fitness with some real climbing. Fras has been climbing all winter and is crushing V10s as per usual, so he was also eager to do a tour of L-dub rock.

Fras drove down to Seattle on Friday after work, so it was fun to hang out for the night even though we had to speak in hushed undertones to avoid infuriating the newt who was deep in the throes of a work-related crisis. We hit the sack at a reasonable hour and then rose early the next morning to load up PT and hit the road. The weather was nasty on the ascent up to Stevens Pass with a mix of snow and rain, but as soon as we began dropping down the backside the sun shone through and we quickly emerged from the fog onto dry roads and clear blue skies. You've got to love rain shadows, faux-Bavarian village here we come!

Upon arriving in Leavenworth we headed up Icicle Canyon, having decided to start our day off at an area called the Clamshell Boulders. After a 15 minute hike in we dropped the pads and began warming up on some V0s, V1s, and V2s. Our warm-up culminated with a really good V3 called “Crimp, Crimp, Slap, Throw”, highly recommended. We then moved on to one of the more challenging area classics, a V7 called “Octopus”, or maybe it was called “Mr. Octopus”? This proved too difficult for me, but the young Wolf was able to call in the send after a few tries, here is a shot of Fras on the problem:

From here we moved on to another area called Mad Meadows, which was set in a pleasant part of the forest that was alive with vivid green grass and blooming yellow grass.

After arriving at the boulders we started on a couple of V3s then moved on to a V5 called “Hairy Spotter”. This problem received 0 out of 3 stars in the book, however, we both really liked it. We noticed a general trend of disagreeing with the guidebook's star ratings, with problems that we liked not getting many stars, and problems that had serious shortcomings in our view receiving the full 3 out of 3 star. Some examples of shortcomings were problems that didn't top out, problems that used more than one boulder, and problems that didn't fulfill the “proud line” requirement. Anyways, the point of this is just to say that you should take star ratings with a grain of salt, especially if you are bouldering in Leavenworth. Here is a shot of Fras giving it some gusto to latch the crux hold on the V5 “Hairy Spotter”:

We then moved on to another V3 and V4 that were not that memorable, then to a high V4 which was pretty soft for the grade. Apologies for the lack of problem names, I am writing this entry a week later on a plane without access to the guidebook. We then moved on to an interesting V6 called “The Hole”, I wasn't able to send but Fras made short work of it and we then moved on to our next area Forestland.

We started with a V4 and V5 that were vertical and fun, before Fras hopped on a V7 called “The Shield” that he had been really excited to try. One funny thing about going on a climbing trip with Fras is that even if it is to an area that I have been to before and feel like I know pretty well, despite his not having climbed there before he usually spends enough time the week before watching youtube videos of people climbing at the area that he gets to know it better than I do and ends up showing me around instead of vice versa. This had happened when I was living in Utah and Fras came out to climb at Joes Vallehy, and Leavenworth was more of the same. We would be walking around an area I had climbed at a few times before, I would see a problem I had never tried and wonder out loud what it was, and Fras would then nonchalantly rhyme off the name of the problem, the grade, the first ascentionist, and then offer up move-by-move beta. All the youtube research paid off was Fras was able to dispatch “The Shield” on his 2nd attempt, here are two shots of him climbing this spectacular line:

We then moved on to the Upper Forestland where Fras had a few tries on a really nice looking V10 called “The Coffee Cup” and came pretty close before deciding that the batteries were starting to run down a bit. We then did a really nice V2 and V4 called “Sunny and Steep” (presumably named after the crag at Red Rocks that it bore resemblance to) and “Funny and Cheap”, both excellent problems. By this time it was starting to get a little dark and we were feeling a little tired, but there was one more problem that had caught our eyes during our tour, a V7 called “Dangle”. This moved out a steep face with big moved on positive holds before pressing out a difficult mantle on sloping holds. Fras had a go first and managed to flash it, which gave me some hope, and on my first effort I came pretty close. By this time it was getting quite dark but I decided to rest up and have one more burn, here is a shot of me under the problem getting ready for another attempt:

The next go was a great success, as I was able to punch out the send for my first V7 of the year (albeit a very soft one). By this time it was 8:30pm, and having started climbing at noon, we had now completed our 8 hour shift plus 30 minutes of overtime so we decided to clock out and head to Gustav's for burgers and beer. When we had been packing up that morning we had foolishly decided to pack camp chairs and books to occupy us during down time, I hadn't been climbing with Fras for a while and I had forgotten that on our trips there is no such thing as down time, if it is still light out and we still have skin on our fingertips then we are still climbing! Maybe that is why we can't always find others to accompany us on these trips, I guess not everyone likes climbing until it is dark and then having dinner at 10:30pm before going to sleep on a crashpad because you are too tired to set up the tent.

We enjoyed our delicious burgers and ales courtesy of Gustav and then walked around Leavenworth a bit being tourists (although it was 11pm and everything was closed) before driving back up Icicle Canyon to find some camping. We turned off at one of the Forest Service campgrounds and managed to find a dirt road that continued on from there and led us to a pull out where we could drop our crash pads in the forest and drift off to sleep.

We awoke the next morning to more blue skies and the sun just peeking over the mountains. I was feeling refreshed, but Fras told me he hadn't slept too well because he had been nervous that a branch was going to fall on him (maybe we should have used the tent after all). PT was very happy to be spending a night out in the forest again after way too many boring nights parked out in front of our house in Seattle. Here is a shot of him nestled in the trees enjoying the fresh mountain air:

And here is a shot of our comfortable (though hazardous due to the overhead branches, as Fras informed me that morning) sleeping area:

After loading up PT we headed into town for some breakfast at Safeway, which consisted of one Americano each and a dozen fresh pastries split between us. Oh man is that ever a good breakfast! It didn't hurt either that the sun was shining and the only thing on the agenda for the day was running around the forest throwing ourselves at new (to us) boulder problems. After enjoying the wares of the talented Safeway bakers we headed off to the Mountain Home boulders, an area that I had not been to but had been meaning to check out for a while.

We warmed up on some easier problems, then climbed a bunch of other stuff. Jesse, Kimberly, Morgan, and Hess showed up around noon and it was fun to climb with them for a few hours before we had to hit the road. Some of the highlights were a V4 called “Barn Door” that Fras is shown on below:

As well as a V8 called “Cattle Guard Arete” that Fras was able to dispatch in a few tries:

We had decided we wanted to be on the road by 4pm since the trip back to Seattle would take 2.5 hours and then Fras would have to make the 3 hour trip back to Vancouver (though it would only be 2 hours and 15 minutes if Roanne were driving). After a few tries on a great looking V4 called Darth Maul (unsuccessful largely due to the scary mantel) we packed up the truck and were pulling away from the Mountain Home boulders just after 4, exactly according to our plan. The only part of the situation that wasn't according to plan was that we had actually decided to go do some more bouldering at another area, since for Fras the desire to climb more new problems turns out to burn hotter than the desire to be back in Vancouver before midnight on a Sunday.

So, we detoured to the Swiftwater Picnic Area for some burns on a nice V7 called “Premium Coffee”, which I have climbed in the past but Fras was quite keen to try. We made some progress but no send, and finally at 5:15pm we decided that we we had better head back to Seattle (for real this time), and off we went. The trip back went well, and despite being caught behind some slow drivers on highway 2 we made it back to the Emerald City in good time. After grabbing a bite to eat and paying his respects to the newt Fras headed off to Vancouver, wrapping up another installment of the Adventure Club of the Greater PNW. Good times!