Gorgeous Spring

Poor Alex. Other kids get to play on their spring break, or sleep until noon. She has to work. We went straight from school on Friday afternoon to Reno, where she had an SCS comp the following day. Which meant, among other things, no swimming in the hotel pool. (The water softens the competitors' hands.)

Her long 9-5 day in Reno's Rocksport gym was not infused with a great deal of drama. Against a field of three undistinguished D girls (no Natalia Grossman, no Gwen Sabo) she had the situation well in hand from start to finish.

On Sunday morning, with light blowing snow and the wind chill in the 20s, we headed out for points south, with Amanda and Chris Keys following us.

David had plans to introduce Amanda Keys to her first outdoor lead, but it was not to be. Matrimony Wall was adorned with icicles and the trail to Warming Wall choked with snow, so we let the Keyses be on their way to the Buttermilks, where they'd hook up with other Belmont climbers for several days of bouldering.

A child of temperate climes, Alex was grooving on the snow and ice around our Mammoth hotel and the cold-weather fashions sported at the breakfast bar. On the first day, as we stepped into the parking garage, we heard a cracking explosion and a tinkle of glass. Two 'boarder dudes had somehow shattered the rear window of their SUV right in front of us. They seemed oddly calm -- stunned, maybe, or stoned.

On the east side you don't have to drive far for a change in temperature, and we had our fingers crossed for good climbing weather a couple thousand feet lower. On Day One, Monday, we headed to the Owens River Gorge, a sport climbing mecca new to Alex. As usual, she made the most of an unfamiliar situation, with four onsights. (And the weather was great.)

First was Powerhouse Wall. We thought the route was Los Angeles Is Burning, but we were a bit off. For not the first time, we sent Alex up something that was not in the book.

As Alex began to climb, two gentlemen who were cleaning out a new route nearby seemed to be taking inordinate interest in her progress. The higher she went, the more animated they became, to the point they were yelling at each other. When she topped out, they dropped their tools and walked over. And thus we met Alex's guardian angels, Derik Olson and Kelly Cordner. Cordner is currently No. 3 on the tote board of the most prolific route-builders in the Gorge, a walking legend in the climbing community.

When Alex was back on the ground, they peppered her with questions: What did you think of it? How hard was it? How would you grade it? What would you call it? It turns out they had just finished building this project, and it had no grade or name. Now it does: 5.8, Alex's Warmup (above left). Her name in the Gorge guidebooks! Thank you, Derik and Kelly. You are a part of our family history now.

That afternoon we ran into them again at Pub Wall, and they lent us their 70-meter rope so Alex could climb the longest route she's done so far, almost 100 feet (see tiny figure in circle, above right).

Day Two in the Gorge, we pushed north as far as Great Wall of China. She onsighted two more routes: Set Free, a severely set 5.10c classic by her friend and fan Tony Puppo, and Fender Strat, a 5.10a by the aforementioned Kelly Cordner.

After the big walls of the Gorge, we headed south to Lone Pine, to the familiar cliffs of the Alabama Hills. Not much to report there, execpt beautiful views, strong climbing and the fact that she scored some booty gear -- a quickdraw and a 70M rope. ("Booty gear" is the stuff left by others when they retreat from a route. If you have the guts to go get it, it's yours.)

After all these years, our affection for Lone Pine continues to grow. It's a much more diverse town than you'd expect. Indians from the subcontinent, Indians who have lived on this land since before recorded history, many Mexicans. We loved the retro-style Chinese feast at the Merry-Go-Round and the tacos at the truck/produce market across from the Mt. Whitney Motel. (Taste sensation of the trip: Tacos Guero's version of adobada, crunchy, smoky little nuggets.) Throw in a few hundred German and Italian tourists in the summer, and you have a very cosmopolitan little burg.

Overall, a very balanced trip, with known favorites and bold new destinations in just the right proportion. Alex's climbing was very strong, even on the stiffest lead routes. And yes, she never took a lead fall.