Friday, October 21, 2011

Smoke's Rock Course: Following in the Footsteps of Legends.

By Adamame

 I was ten minutes late when I turned the car off Buttermilk Road into the random pullout about a 1/4 mile before the world famous Peabody Boulders. Two unshaven and older mountain characters dressed in grungy Patagonia and Marmot were already lounging in the early morning sun brewing and drinking coffee.  I pull myself out of the car and gingerly stroll over to the two mountain men a little weary of my young age, of thirty. I ask, "I imagine you guys are waiting for Doug Robinson?"

"We expect him here sometime today", replies the older of the two men,"You must be one of the kids coming from Santa Cruz that he is passing on the tradition to. My name is S.P."

Ten minutes later and the other climber Brad Larsen has finished brewing me a coffee out of a classic 80's era hanging canister stove. Another ten minutes latter Doug texts,"Hey, running late -- sorry. Be there soon" Thats when Brad let loose that he authored the line, “Time and Doug Robinson have nothing in common.”

8:40 AM brings us Em Holland, the only lady tough enough for the day, must be twice as old me, but seems to know whats up, casually late, she immediately joins the lounging.  With all the old school folk in the lot, I started to get worried about the absence of my bros, Connor and Eric. Without them I am a little afraid to bust out my stuffed Penguin, Penny Guino, and her companion for the day, ZAP. I felt relieved when I introduced Penny, and asked how I should carry her, she said,"Oh you're Adamame!"

 My fellow ZAP lovers pull in an hour late sporting not one but two ZAPs. Connor is a yard-sale as usual, having arrived for a day of old school scrambling dressed in shorts sporting a pair of skate shoes, and down-turned climbing slippers. Eric seems to know the game as he quickly laces up a pair of guide tennies.
At 9:30 AM, Doug silently rolls up in a beat up first edition Toyota Prius festooned with anarchistic and Grateful Dead stickers, sporting a huge smile and no sign of remorse for his lateness. But Doug is easily forgiven, as he has promised a fun day of climbing and storytelling through the little mountains that cap the Buttermilk Hills.
Doug is here to lead us on the footsteps of his mentor and friend, Smoke Blanchard, a legendary mountain guide who spent his latter years living, guiding, story telling, and climbing his way around the Eastside of the Sierra. He spent years scrambling around Buttermilk Mountain through a labryinth like clump of rocks authoring a rock course that artistically weaves its way through and too the top of the twelve pinnacles of Buttermilk Mountain. This was his training ground for gaining skills that would prove useful in the larger mountains above. The course was long forgotten until recent years when various Eastside climbing characters, that include the likes of John Fischer, Tai Devore, and Doug Robinson, rediscovered their way to the top of Smoke’s twelve pinnacles and revived the tradition of their mentor.

After more lounging around our motley crew of climbers assemble and follow Doug's ramble by gorgeously blooming rabbit brush and across sandy hillsides. After hiking downhill for ten minutes of listening to Connor’s inappropriately loud rambling about his new girlfriend, we arrive at what appears to be the low point of Buttermilk mountain.  Doug begins to solo up the rock,  while suddenly an awkward silence overpowered us all. The master of moving over stone slowly and deliberately worked his way up the rock.  The journey begins...
 The climbing is an odd mix of scrambling, chimneys, and then being forced to submit to climbing tricks.  We are rated on a scale of 1-10, I scored only a 7.5 on the "The Flying Squirrel." Brad did a little better.

Em scored a perfect 10 when she busted out the high heals on the "The Rubber Tester."
We weren't really in rush to get anywhere, much storytelling and laughter ensued.
 Doug Really wasn't in a rush at all... He mentioned something about a poetry reading and some wine in a cabin that must have a vortex in it.
 But the boys from Santa Cruz had energy so it was time to move on.
 Doug immediately stuffed us through some holes in the rock.
Which led to an incredible face climb.  We waited in line as Doug soloed up the scary looking face.
Some of us soloed, while others asked for a rope.
Other people were having lots of fun too.
Summits were gained as the day grew hot.
But the evilest of all the chimneys on the rock Course awaited; The Burnt Guano Chimney had been struck by lightning when Smoke was around and burned for a week. It was super intimidating and pretty tricky to get into.  But we all made it in without ropes.
We struggled and grinded our way up through the bowels of Buttermilk Mountain, cursing our backpacks all the while grinning in the joy of the uniqueness of the place.

 This is where the blood started to flow freely from 1/2 of the remaining participants.

The summit block was protected by a cool face climb, and promised a stellar view.
There was time for a summit party
 More seemingly pointless scrambling led to a scary as hell downclimb, but just as we started to question the path, around the next corner arose one of the most incredible faces in the Buttermilks.
 By the time we surmounted one more crux chimney, many stories had been told, new friends made, with much laughter, joy, and learning for all of our team. Our time was running out as we climbed to one more summit and a chance to raise our ZAPs and salute the good friend we once had, a man whose spirit will live on forever in all of the hearts that he touched. This one is for you Zachary Parke, we love you!
 But the summit was only part of the journey and Doug informed us that there was one more downclimb before we make it Picnic Valley. One by one we tied the thin rope around our waists and cautiously downclimbed as Doug held the rope with the rough hands of a seasoned mountain guide. It was an honor for all of us to be there with Doug Robinson on that day.

As we descended to Picnic Valley, a large round boulder was spotted in the distance. Eric, Connor, and I ran off towards the boulder flying down sandy hillsides, parkouring our way through a maze of boulders, chimneys, and water shoots. We arrived at what Doug called The Atlas Boulder, which hadn't been summited until after the death of Smoke Blanchard in the early eigthies.  There was a perfect un-chalked patina face over a cushy sand landing. The three of us boys couldn't resist.  And after I unlocked the opening moves, Connor revealed the Evolv Optimus slippers that had been carrying all along and went for the high top out through unknown terrain. The team looked on in awe as Connor styled his way upwards.
 None of us reached the top of the Atlas Boulder by any route that day, and before too long various time constraints started to catch up with members of out team. Handshakes and hugs were shared as our random group Split and one by one headed back to the parking lot, but the three of us kids each had the extra energy of a ZAP and went the opposite direction back into the hills. We parkoured our way around the mountain with a regained energy for hours until it was too dark to not call it quits. I could have ran around on that mountain forever. We strolled threw crowds of people at the Peabody boulders, where all the chalk marks seemed so alien and foreign after our experience, all the little trails leading to this or that sick problem seemed so odd,  It felt like we had reemerged into an urban world of boulders.  I had been here hundreds of times before, and never imagined that a relatively untrodden and interesting world was a waiting me just a 1/4 mile over the hill.
Until next time keep it real and have fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment