For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with green leaves and crimson flowers. (summarized from Wikipedia)⠀ ⠀ Originally done as an acrylic painting, I made a digital reproduction because I think this plant is truly fantastic. Definitely of my favorite sights to see in Joshua Tree.
The desert is a place of mysticism - of legends and tales and people who were. From the moment I enter Zion, I see the awkward coexistence of native spiritualism shoulder-to-shoulder with the rigid structure of brittle religion. The names of rocks struggle for truth, having been changed throughout the ages. Is this place truly Zion, or is it Mukuntuweap? Maybe it’s something that’s older than all that — it is it’s own entity, inexplicable by human language.
Zion, as we call her now, is somewhat akin to a kooky aunt you may know, or even have. You know, that one lady with a story for every knick knack, with all of her funky jewelry and brightly colored drapery. There is harmony in the unpredictability of the weather and the jagged cracks that shoot through the red towers. There is gratuitous shelter from harsh weather and perfectly placed wildflowers that are host to colorful butterflies and curious squirrels. As giving as she is though, she is terrible — the dry winds whip at your layers and suffocate your words. Snow and burning sun alternate on your skin, minutes from each other. We are tiny specks on the wall, trying, in our own colorful way.
Our desert journey didn’t start there, however. We started in Red Rock, Nevada, a place I’ve been a few times before. It’s only now that I’m starting to understand what it feels like to climb in Red Rock, though. I’ve had some fun bouldering and sport climbing in Red Rock, but it’s the multi-pitch climbing that really shines here. Stories around the campfire about epic descents while staying up late to wait anxiously for friends — these events, I’ve learned, happen often.
Between the Red Rocks and Zion portions of our road trip, we camped and bouldered at Moe’s Valley in St. George, Utah. I loved the quality of the rock, but it tore through my fingers after five days of climbing already on them. It wasn’t until we had already left St. George, that I learned just how much climbing is possible in the area. Next time, I’ll be better equipped with guidebooks and beta, and I’m hopeful for some great climbing experiences here.
What are some of your favorite Southwest road trips? Any stops, climbs or eats you recommend? Respond in the comments below!
If you've been following along on Instagram, you'll probably have noticed that we've been on a road trip from Los Angeles to Red Rocks to Utah.
We sat in a dirt parking lot in Saint George, Utah after having climbed four consecutive days in Red Rocks. Thankfully the climbing was pretty varied — a day of bouldering at Kraft followed by some mellow multi-pitch routes, then some crack cragging and another day of mellow multi-pitch. Still, we were pretty tired.
None of us woke particularly early, and when we did, it was slow going to get moving. Our friend Mike played the guitar while Ben worked on patching a hole in his sweatpants. He's been really into learning how to sew lately, so our tattered climbing shirts and pants are feeling lucky. In no rush to get to the boulders, I got out my sketchbook for a quick doodle. The flowers in Red Rocks had been so beautiful the past week. I'm not really one to do any kind of representative artwork, but man, desert flowers just speak to me somehow.
So here are some of my favorite cactus flowers from Red Rocks, Mescalito in the background, and some truly unique looking rock in the foreground. Hey, we climbed Lotta Balls a few days before, so I had to.
Introducing a new project today! I’m calling it “100 drawings about climbing.” The goal is to draw something climbing related every day for 100 days. I’ve had so many suggestions, random ideas and thoughts that just never make it onto t-shirts, so this is meant to be a fun way to “idea dump.” ⠀ ⠀ Between designing, climbing and not having the right facilities sometimes to sit down and draw, I'm going to try my best to get one out each day, but there might be a few that slip out of my hands.⠀ ⠀ So here goes nothing! Drawing 1/100 "It's Finger Lockin'Good!" Inspired by the countless KFC ads I keep hearing while not paying for Spotify. And finger locks, yeah, those.
Why go to a women's climbing festival? Don’t you already climb with women? I was asked this by many friends when I mentioned I’d be attending and sponsoring this year's event.
I imagine a lot of women respond with an instinctual “hell yeah!” when they envision a group of women climbing together, and anticipate an overall positive experience. But since I’d been asked so directly, I wanted to think about this a little more. Why did I go? What was different about this organized event versus getting a few lady friends together to climb?
It's hard to say what's so great about climbing with hundreds of women until you're actually there.
Many women (and a few men) escaping the snow on Weekender V4.
My usual experience climbing outdoors is in a mixed crowd with slight variations in climbing ability. Sometimes the women are the stronger climbers, and sometimes the men are — it just depends on who shows up that day. However, males are usually the majority, both within the group and outside the group.
Being somewhere between 5'1" and 5'2", and having a negative ape index, it is very evident that most people I encounter outdoors don’t look like me. I’m also of average fitness — I’m neither super slim or have extraordinary muscle structure. I get really excited when I see someone of my body type climbing harder than I do, because that's encouraging for me. It means that my size is not a limitation. Sometimes I’ll be working on a climb and a bigger guy will step in and get up it by way of sheer force and length. This is not inspiring to me.I must also admit (with guilt) that I have a tendency to excuse myself on certain climbs by saying those moves must be achieved by having a longer reach and testosterone-boosted muscles when most people at the crag are male and much much bigger than you.
NOT SO when you’re climbing at the Women’s Climbing Festival. The best thing about this event is getting outside and seeing women of all climbing abilities trying hard. Although my body type is still a minority, it is a difference of seeing two to three people who look like me working on the same problem versus the usual zero. That’s huge! As I’m walking around, there are short women working on hard problems, problems I haven’t considered, and doing moves that I’m not entirely sure I can do but am now willing to give it a try. I love seeing a group of people who look like you make progress on a climb that you never thought you’d get on in a million years. There are fewer excuses to give up. The organized events are also a great way to catch up with familiar faces and connect with women from all around the country. I realize now, after two years of attending the women’s climbing festival, that it’s really the outdoor vibe that I’ve come to love.
Ashley Nguyen works the heel hooks on Son of Claudius Roofus, V5.
If you reversed the genders of all the people at the crag during the women’s climbing festival, that’s probably what a normal day outdoors would look like. Mostly male, with a decent number of women sprinkled in. I'm so glad that people out there take the time and energy to make women the majority outdoors, even if only for a few days. To me, the women’s climbing festival is a dream weekend where I can climb with people who understand my beta, and I can talk ideas without being looked at quizzically.
So here’s to women climbing with women, people like Shelma Jun who are willing to put events like this together, the amazing town of Bishop that opens up their roads and rocks to us visiting climbers. It’s a sneak peek into what the outdoor world would be like with women as the majority, and it’s a wonderful world out there.
The Happy hike down, and a happy finale to the Women's Climbing Festival!
Don't have too much fun, don't have a different opinion, don't say controversial things, don't get lost, don't look unflattering, don't lose control, don't fall, don't rise up, don't fail, don't start. DON'T. DO. ANYTHING.
OR, you can get a little louder, stand up, speak up and support your fellow women with this brand spankin' new tank top design.
Available now for preorder. Orders will ship in late February. For a limited time, we are also taking custom requests for alternate fits. So if you want this on a men's/unisex tank or on a tee, email Dynamitestarfish@gmail.com for details!
We kicked off 2017 right with a pretty special trip to Bishop and Mammoth. Great weather, climbing, snowboarding — is there more I could ask for?
What a treat it is to live just 4 hours away from Bishop. As Los Angeleno’s, we’re damn lucky to have all this great climbing just half a day away.
Day 1 — Travel day + stop at Alabama Hills
Some time this summer I was inspired to make a climbing goal. Although it’s not super important to me what grade I climb, it is important to me that I measure my improvement and push myself to try harder things. I settled on the goal of climbing a 5.11a clean. At the time I was climbing 5.10c pretty solidly — sometimes I’d take a fall if the route was really pumpy, but for the most part, I could do every move with ease. I gave myself until December 31. Just before Christmas, I took a big fall from the top of the bouldering wall at the gym and gave myself some bad whiplash that stopped me from climbing for about a week and a half. Crap. With the end of the year just around the corner, I was mentally prepared to let it go. It was an arbitrary thing, I had improved over the past half year, and just having the goal had pushed me to try harder things — the accomplishment of the goal wasn’t really that important. My boyfriend suggested that we stop by Alabama Hills on the way up to Bishop to have a rope day, and also to maximize sunlight on a travel day. Without any expectations, I jumped on Dihedral Dance 5.11a, and sent it! Maybe it was easy for the grade, or maybe all the stars were aligned in my favor, but it's done now. Next goal...? Hmm. 😉
A video posted by Dynamite Starfish (@godynamitestarfish) on
Day 2 — Wake up early and climb!
...at the Buttermilks, that is. We're the first party to arrive at the Get Carter boulder, and it's COLD. Warming up while freezing my hands at the same time. I'm such a baby about the cold... sometimes I wish I was brought up in heartier weather and able to brave temps below uhh... 60 F. Seven Spanish Angels v6 is on the agenda for this morning. This climb is honestly too hard for me to make much progress on right now, but I was able to see some improvement after a few attempts. Putting this in my back pocket for the time being. After one epic send, and a few near sends that brought on dreams of beta later that night, we moved on to to a more varied (but tired) tour of the Buttermilks.
A photo posted by Dynamite Starfish (@godynamitestarfish) on
Day 4 — New Year’s Day
Started off 2017 at the Sads! Our group had a pretty large range of what we wanted to work on, so v1’s were projected just as intensely as v8’s. We climbed ’til we could climb no more. We got on Strength in Numbers v5, My Chemical Romance v2, The Fang v4, Pow Pow v8, and some other problems we encountered along the way.
Check out this sweet video Eric Dehaven shot of Ben on The Fang!
Day 5 — The Happy Boulders, and finally good-bye!
This was one of those days we split up into little groups so everyone could get in what they wanted on the last day. Man, this day was cold and windy. We finally found sunshine up near the 60-ft Woman Traverse and thoroughly shredded our hands on razor sharp pockets until it was time to go.
This obsession with PLACE. I’m not sure when it started—maybe it was growing up in an unimaginative suburb and being pushed into a box so small that anything outside of it was what I dreamt of every day. It’s the little details about a place that I hold so dear and have a neverending curiosity for. The current state of a place shows glimpses of its history—the people who developed an area and left their influence there. Hints to it’s future by way of the present. Those who are striving to make change in a place will define how the future plays out there, for better or worse. The rules, regulations and politics of a place also affect how it appears now. What kinds of people are drawn to certain places, and why? How does culture come about? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
⠀ Climbing is just one way to experience a place, but I’ve found that it is a meaningful and fascinating one. Each trail that you walk on has a history, and so does every established route you climb. This sport also has a way of transforming small towns and even large cities through its tightly knit community. The ideas and areas we explore run in parallel. We can’t visit a place and turn a blind eye to its past and future. The reason why I'm obsessed with the shared experiences of climbing and of a certain “place,” is because of the questions rattle my brain — the desire to know how a place came to be just so… and where might the culture be headed? Think about it the next time you head outdoors.⠀
Yosemite Valley is the stuff of dreams. After seeing hundreds of tantalizing photographs and listening to stories and beta from friends, we gave it a go.
Magnificent views upon entering the park.
Our campsite in Upper Pines.
Loved waking up to this view every morning!
Obama was giving a speech in Yosemite National Park that weekend, which set back our plans for the first day of climbing. After waiting in the Village parking lot for a couple hours, we made our way to the top of Manure Pile Buttress on the beautiful multi-pitch trad climb, After Six.
The view over Yosemite Valley from the first belay station on After Six, 5.6.
We spent our second day bouldering around Camp 4, with our eyes set on Bachar Cracker. Afterwards, we headed over to the Generator Crack for a truly unique experience. For a few of us, this was our first taste of an off width. With a lot of sweat, blood and effort, the top was within reach!
The start of Bachar Cracker, V4 at Camp 4.
Pretty much all we could do after Generator Crack.
The Grack on Day 3 gave us a little bit of a hard time. After spending longer than expected finding the right trail, we were on. During the first pitch, we took a wrong turn and ended up on the Grack Left. I don’t have a lot of experience on long multi-pitches or carrying heavy trad gear, so my achy feet were begging me to stop. As sad as we were to come off of a climb, we took a long lunch break beneath a shady tree before heading down and back home.
Bye, Yosemite! Thanks for the good times.
Yosemite was wonderfully majestic, and all the climbs we got on were well worth it.
Here’s a photo of me trying real hard but not getting very far, which kind of sums up how I feel right now. There’ll be no climbing for me, at least for a few weeks — I went to the ER for a stomachache and ended up having to have a pesky vestigial organ removed. Sure, the experience was painful and tiresome, but there was a little adventure to be had.
I’m grateful for the magical people who showed me love the past few days — the hospital staff, my lovely boyfriend, close friends and friends I hadn’t expected to hear from. I was even happy to see my parents stop by, as awkward and detached as they may be. I'm not naturally one to ask for help, but I’m really glad I didn’t just grin and bear it. I couldn’t be more grateful for the caring people around me.
I think the magic of asking for and receiving is just that — it’s the limitless gratitude you want to shower upon everyone who helped you at the exact moment you needed it. I’d like to think good experiences spread like wildfire — and from my accommodating hospital staff I have learned to make someone in pain more comfortable. The patience and presence of my boyfriend has taught me that just being there is sometimes the best kind of support. From my concerned companions I have learned to be a kinder and more compassionate friend. So yeah, I kind of can't wait to grow, and I hope that makes someone who needs it get their metaphorical hug at just the right time.
I’m a little sad that I won’t be climbing (or walking much faster than my 90 year old grandma) for weeks, but watch out world, I’ll be drinking milkshakes and watching Netflix like a champ.
Check out our interview with Jeanne of Bouldering Babes in their Gear Talk section! We talk about how Dynamite Starfish got started, what we're ultimately aiming to accomplish, and what we think of the future of women in climbing.
Climbing has introduced us to so many amazing people, and I'm grateful to have met Jeanne this year. So excited to do more for women in the climbing community!
Kathy is a hidden gem in the wonderful world of the internet. She climbs (both rock and ice), loves dogs, pizza and desserts, and writes about her adventures on her blog, For the Love of Climbing. I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface at her many talents here. I first came to know her name through Instagram, where on more nights than I’d like to admit, I scroll down indefinitely, looking for something interesting to look at. I hovered over this girl with a huge, silly grin on her face, sporting hot pink tape and covered in filth after doing some ridiculous off-width climb… and it made me laugh. I went through more of her posts and found what she had to say so poignant and close to home that I found myself wishing that I had the same bravery to talk about myself with the honesty that she did. Well, long story short, we connected over email. After doing a little bit of brainstorming about how we could do a project together, she graciously agreed to do this interview where I ask her lots of prodding and intrusive questions about her life.
So get your reading glasses on and your mug of hot tea ready and let’s dive in.
It seems like you left East Coast on an epic road trip and are now based in Denver. Is that right? How long were you on the road, and what was it about Denver that caught your eye?
Yes! I am currently based out of Denver, CO. No more living in the Honda for me. I started living out of my car in November of 2014, while I was still living in Brooklyn, NY. I did that until the week before Christmas, drove across the country and the adventure started there. I had the opportunity to travel to Africa in August and had to leave the brown dog and my wheels with friends in Boulder. When I was stateside, I had this panicked thought about having to drive anywhere else (I’d already driven across the country three times at that point). I was so tired of traveling, so I signed a lease a few months later and parked it in Denver. Truth is, it could have been anywhere in the country! Colorado seemed like an okay place to hang my hat for a while.
For lack of a better word, it’s “ballsy” to get up and leave a place you’ve called home to live on the road. The world is big and the unknowns are endless. What was your greatest fear before you stepped out the door?
Before I left, my greatest fear was dealing with all of the change. I think that that’s a fairly normal fear for most people. Nothing was going to be the same anymore and I didn’t know if I was ready for that or not. Looking back a year later, I’m reminded how adaptable we all are, and that if you don’t try to restart your system, a new garden will never grow.
This isn’t so much a question as a personal opinion, but the thing I love most about your blog is your honest insight. I talk to myself both in my head and out loud while on the wall. It’s funny to see the similarities climbers’ brains, especially from someone who has a similar body type. “Get your ass up and climb harder” totally resonates. I hope you continue to share that kind of refreshing and relatable insight with your readers.
Thank you Leslie! I try to be honest with how I’m feeling, and it feels good to share it with others. I think the purpose behind that is, no matter how alone in the world you might be feeling, there’s a pretty good chance that other people have felt that way, too. I love talking to someone and having those “me too!” moments. It’s making those small connections with people, because that’s what big relationships are built on.
Any tips you’d like to share for women (or men) wanting to start trad climbing? How did you get into it?
Well, I started ice climbing two years before I even knew what rock climbing was. When I moved to NYC, I started trekking up to the Gunks every single week. My first partner took me up a few pitches and then gave me the opportunity to realize that I was just as capable of leading, so I sort if hit the ground running. It was all I thought about when I wasn’t forced to think about other things. It gave me so much joy, and I just gained that momentum and love for it. Five years later, and that’s only grown.
If you’re just beginning to trad climb, I’d say start slow. Forget about grades if you’ve been climbing previously (bouldering, sport climbing, or climbing in a gym). Let go of your ego because we ALL know you can climb strong—being a safe and smart climber matters much more. Learn how to place gear that you’d feel confident taking leader falls on. Learn what shitty gear looks like (because there going to be times you’ll be placing that, too). Learn how to build safe anchors. Read John Long’s Climbing Anchors book—basically, that should be your bible. I even go back to reference it or refresh my memory from time to time.
Life on the road… any standout moments that have impacted you significantly? I imagine there are many many experiences, but if you were to pick just one! Or two.
Climb with people who you trust, love and respect. Those are three different prerequisites for me. They will make for a richer experience. Climb with people who can teach you, because I think we learn the most from hands-on experiences. Climb with people who inspire you, and climb to inspire. And most importantly, climb because it’s fun and puts a smile on your face from first morning lit approaches to descents by headlamp.
Veering off into territory that many people don’t like to talk much about: money. It’s so rad that you’re out climbing as much as possible and living life the way you want to. To be honest, that’s where I’d like to be too. How do you support your lifestyle?
So, I’d actually been planning on hitting the road in March of 2015 but my plans went awry (the best ones always do), and I wound up quitting my job in January. I was in the middle of Utah with absolutely no idea what I was going to do or where I was going. It was terrifying. And then I realized, I was given this blank slate and how often are we so lucky? I had started a business in Brooklyn, NY and I kept working at it virtually. I run a nanny placement agency out of NYC (and now Boulder, CO). I’d networked the better part of Park Slope for over two years, so during the winter and spring months, I placed nannies with families and received a placement fee. I’m just starting to grow and develop my business in Colorado.
I also partnered with a few companies on my blog, For the Love of Climbing (www.fortheloveofclimbing.com). I bartered for ad space and helped companies (such as Dirtbag Climbers) with social media content. When I quit my job in January, I asked myself: “What am I good at?” and I’ve always had a knack for meeting and connecting people, and I love helping people when I can. Even if you don’t personally have the answers for someone, you’re bound to know someone who does!
I also lived VERY frugally. When a friend had asked me how much I actually lived off of each month and I told him, his response was: “Wow. You were REALLY dirtbagging it.” (duh!)
I hear Colorado is the land of great beer. Any favorite spots?
I’m actually not a huge beer drinker! I’m more of a bourbon girl, anyway. My new favorite coffee shop is Downpours on Tennyson—it’s down the street from me and staff members are mostly all climbers. It’s almost hard to get work done sometimes when you order a coffee and get sucked into talking beta for two hours with your barista. Love those guys. (Hi Ryan! Hi Brian!)
Donuts or cookies?
It’s undeniable that you have a big heart with a real love for people and for climbing. Was there a particular event or person in your life that influenced that perspective?
Scott Albright, my partner from the Gunks, believed in me more than anybody else—even myself. He encouraged me to follow my dreams because he believes in living a live you love. Mark Arrow, my father, gave me a new confidence and way of looking at life and all of the people around me. He gave me unconditional love. I try and take what both of these men taught me and share it with every person I meet.
I also think a lot about the less positive relationships in my life. They have been influential because these people have challenged me in ways that loved ones necessarily don’t. It’s also been my way of taking a negative experience with a person and uncovering the good.
Goals for the upcoming year of 2016?
This year, I’m excited to be out west to get my ice legs back. I’ve been checking out local Colorado ice and have been interested in some of the alpine ice climbing. I’m trying to up my offwidth game, so I’ll definitely be spending time in Vedauwoo and the Creek this spring and summer. I’ve also got my eye on a few bigger walls. Long multi-pitch climbing is calling my name…hope to see some of you out there!
Thank you so so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I loved reading your blog in more detail, and the more I read, the more stoked I get to go climb. Your quest for improvement and your cheerfulness about life as it is inspires and uplifts. I’m so excited that you’re the first to kick off my climber interview series, and that I get to spread some of your infectious happiness around Los Angeles!
As always, thanks to everyone who read this through. I hope my curiosity was able to provide some insight and bring up some of the questions you may have been itching to know the answers to. This is the first of Dynamite Starfish's chats, and I hope I'll have many opportunities to delve into the lives of other climbers and inspirational men and women in the future.
You can keep up with Kathy at the following links:
Before launching Dynamite Starfish and growing it into what it is today (let’s be honest here, it’s still small), I wondered how I could create a business model where I wouldn’t be bound by profit and acquisition.
Why? People inherently love money, right? Yeah… well, here’s the thing about me: I’ve always hated selling, marketing and advertising. It’s just my luck that I ended up becoming a graphic designer, which I define as a master of aesthetics whose skills are used to sell things. However, through my experience as such, I’ve learned that a certain level of polish is necessary when giving, whether it is for the exchange of money or not. The presentation is worth something, and that presentation takes time. This realization did not come without some level of kicking and screaming, but when I started working full-time, I really began to value my time. I was punched with the fact that time cannot always be free. If I stayed true to my younger, selfish ways, I would continue to give away my art, my labor and my time for free. I did this a lot. I am hugely grateful to one of my printmaking professors who reacted in an uproar when I gave away prints for free when I could have sold them at a reasonable price in order to buy more paper and ink. If I continued to live like this, my endeavors would be short-lived. I’d starve, I wouldn’t have a place to live, and I wouldn’t be able to offer anything of value to anyone. So how does a person like this start a business? Isn’t the very purpose of business to make loads and loads of money?
Sure. My goals are pretty clear, though. This business is for me to make money. Some money. Enough for the business to sustain itself. Enough to buy more ink and paper, if you will. One day, if it pays my rent, I’ll be jumping out of my chair in excitement. Until then, I design things. Packages, brochures, logos, tools for other people to sell their goods. That, I get paid for. This, Dynamite Starfish, is a labor of love. I’ve structured the business so that as my profits grow, so does the love. Right now, our profit margins are pretty low. I spend a lot of my own time screen-printing, driving around to pick up shirts from suppliers, going to the post office, making packages by hand, getting my screens burned, and making the art. However, the thing I have in my back pocket is the knowledge that if the shirts go into higher levels of production, I’ll outsource my printing, get better prices on blank shirts and free up lots of my time spent doing manual labor. Although this may initially seem like a jump driven by greed or the acquisition of money, that’s not the bigger picture. As my profit margins go up, so do the donations I make to the organizations that actively conserve our climbing crags. In other words, if my production cost goes down, the amount that gets donated goes up (because the donations are based on a percentage of profits). I’m also then able to offer more of myself by thinking about next steps, finding the right partners, and searching for what’s going to make my readers and followers truly happy.
What I’m really searching for are these very particular types of moments. For as long as I can remember, I always searched for moments when I saw something so relatable I thought, “Oh… Someone gets it. Someone sees it the same way that I do. Why didn’t I think to do that?” At those times I was able to fully appreciate the work someone did and aspired to one day offer the same feeling. So my goal with Dynamite Starfish is to give people who are also looking for those moments, that fulfillment...and I believe that comes from within the business structure and eventually becomes part of what’s on the outside of the tee or tank someone wears.
Having the freedom to look for and provide those moments is all I need to have real happiness and feel success. That freedom could not have come about unless I let go of any preconceived notions I had about sales in the past. I also had to let go of my stupid, young artists’ pride. Letting go of the idea that I should keep all my profits for myself was honestly the easiest step, but not without some struggle. (A lot of people convincingly tell me that I should get paid for every second of work I do. I believe this with many grains of salt.) I consider success to be a group effort. If I experience some success, I want everyone around me to feel that joy too — always and in every endeavor. This post is largely me rambling about why I’ve done what I’ve done, which is inherently not very useful, but I hope it gives some insight into what’s behind the scenes to anyone who is looking.
One of my favorite things about Joshua Tree is the open skyline. All that juts out of the flat desert are oddly shaped, spiked trees that could be from another planet and piles of roundish boulders. I’ve always believed it’d be a great place for stargazing. A few weeks ago, we finally made it out there not only to camp and climb, but also to witness a rare celestial event.
So cold! Photo by Zach Johnson
We started the trip off with some climbing in the Real Hidden Valley area. I finally led my first trad climb! It was called "Ain’t Nothing But A J-Tree thing,” well-titled and a 5.6 with great gear placements. I was excited, happy and proud. The rest of the day was spent running routes to stay warm. When we made our way to our campsite, we found a rather large group of people happily eating and laughing. We grilled up some Korean barbecue we had prepared for the trip, and a couple of beers later, it was time for a night time bike ride! Yes, during a 30 degree night. I’m not as pleasant as I could be in the cold, and my car isn’t large enough to carry gear AND two bicycles, so we drove to the Hidden Valley Campground to meet up with a most daring and adventurous group of two-wheelers.
The Chasm of Doom. We did it in the dark. 17 of us. It was the most intense and hilarious game of telephone, ever. Claustrophobia is a lingering nemesis. It never fully shows its face, but lurks around the corners making its presence known. Imagine the release of anxiety when I get back outside. I silently rejoice with a deep breath and look up, catching a lungful of frigid air and snow on my face.
The walk back to the car was an eerie and otherworldly experience. Dark, heavy clouds hovered over us as far as we could see. With our headlamps off, it was almost too dark to see the road ahead of us, but we could place our steps carefully, directed by the faint shadows and highlights of trees and rocks. Everything was gray, dark gray and black. Not a car or soul in sight.
“This is what it must feel like to be dead,” I thought. Then I remembered, “I’ve dreamt of this scene before.” But in my dreams I walked alone, aimlessly. Wandered through the rocks and trees and tangible darkness until I saw a human silhouette too far away to hear me. We acknowledge the existence of one another and move on, alone. A silence and emptiness so dense it stifles every sound, like breathing in black silk. Even the figures in the distance can be felt through the thick air. There’s a warm hand holding mine, and I snap out of the memory of my dream. Right. I’m walking back to the car with my partner. We’re on the way to campfires and the night’s merriment. The night was dark and windy, and the Geminids stayed hidden that night.
Night Storms Over Intersection Rock — Acrylic on wood
The next day was all about Skinny Dipping. Not quite the type of skinny dipping we usually think about, but just as awkward and cold. It’s an odd, yet hilarious climb that involves a 5.7 crack start, followed by squirming head first into a thin, irregular hole and out the other side. Finish it off with an easy but unprotected chimney! Just across the rock field, we also climbed Candlabra, one of the hardest 5.10a's I’ve encountered. Thanks, JTree. You never disappoint.
Skinny Dip, 5.7R. Photo by Mark Fiji
Back at camp, we shared some beautifully dark beers and kept warm by the fire. We sang happy birthday and watched the now frequent streaks across the sky. After hours of lingering in lubricated conversation, someone interrupted, “Look!" And there it was! A HUGE ONE. I swear you could see the shape of the burning rock from where we sat. From horizon to horizon we followed the huge white tail, which lasted about three seconds. No meteor came close to being brighter and more awe-inspiring.
Here for Just One — India Ink, digitally colored.
The short but bright burn of the falling rocks made me think of this drawing I made a few months ago. It reminds me that we too, burn bright for a short while. I am inspired to smile more, love more and share as much as I can.
Every trip to Joshua Tree is a different and magical experience, and I hope to have many more this year.
For those of you who aren't familiar, I'm Leslie, the artist who creates shirts for Dynamite Starfish. That's me in the photo up there — please excuse the weird sock configuration, it was the end of the day.
I believe that when you take away security, you find what you are really capable of. Under a blanket of things that make you feel safe, there isn’t much to be done. But let’s say you take away the steady income, comfortable settings and your usual circle of friends. What would you be willing to do? How would you prioritize? Would you still hold a person or thing in high regard?
Of course, there are some times I doubt my ability to succeed in what I’m doing. I also know that nothing in life waits until you’re ready—you get thrown into the future (or throw yourself in) and grow as you learn to survive. Everything begins when you commit to the very first step—one that feels like a huge jump into blank air with thousands of feet below, but it must be done. And when the wind is all done screaming in your ears, the next one will be a little easier, and the third may even flow naturally.
I started a business because it was a step in the right direction for me. It was a step away from the places I knew I didn’t want to be, in offices dreaming of having the freedom to talk, walk, eat and sleep when I felt it was necessary. So now I’m here, walking on blank air, doing all I can to survive. Surviving is hard work. Not having someone hand you your next pay check is unsettling. The payoff is that I'm free to live in the way I know is best for me. I was never happy working in an office, and when I realized I was never going to be, I knew I had to take a big step. A lot of people have been asking, "How are you doing?" lately. "How’s the business going?" And this is the most honest answer I can come up with.
I'm so excited to announce that some of our artwork is now available as phone cases, coffee mugs, prints and greeting cards! So. Psyched.
These offerings are thanks to my friends and followers who suggested that certain drawings might look great as a phone case, or asked why I don't offer more products on my site. Cost is a big issue when it comes to manufacturing more goods, and as a small independent company, I don't have the luxury of branching out like that... yet! But there are great online manufacturers, like Society6, who let artists of all types create high quality products without the up front cost. So head on over there and check out the Society6 shop. Right now!
Finding a good partner is hard. This is true of life, love and business. I was on the hunt for non-profit organizations who could do a specific thing: conserve the area a shirt was inspired by. I spoke with someone from The Access Fund. I contacted the American Alpine Club (more on that later). I looked at local chapters and small organizations. I was in a whirlwind of pro’s, con’s and what each organization could and couldn’t do. There was a brief moment where I felt stumped, like the ideas I had just weren’t meant to happen.
Then I found The Friends of the Inyo. The first person I talked to from the organization was Casey. From the start, I was greeted warmly and thanked for my interest in their organization. Manners matter, and though most interactions I have with climbers exceed my expectations in terms of general good-heartedness, I still appreciate this. It was explained to me that although they couldn’t guarantee that all the money Dynamite Starfish donates to them would go into climbing-related conservation, all of it would go into conservation in the Eastern Sierras. Perfect. Exactly the thing I was looking for, and with a good attitude to top it all off.
I could have chosen a larger organization to partner up with. Maybe that would have gotten me more exposure, but sometimes I believe that smaller is the better way to go. There will be opportunities to team up with larger organizations later, but right now I’m making shirts that highlight local crags — crags that have communities and cultures attached to them. These crags have a life and an existence of their own, and those attributes need our help too. Sure, it was climbing that drew me to these places and inspired my designs, but if climbing culture was only about the movement, we’d rarely go outdoors. So by supporting these smaller organizations, we are supporting the communities and cultures that come with our crags — the views, wildlife and people that enhance our memories and create the bigger adventure.
This summer, Ben & I had the pleasure of spending a week climbing at Smith Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon. The sense of community here is strong and unlike my usual experiences in the city. Familiar faces at the campsite, crag and gear shop every day. Tasteful Oregon brews after long days of climbing. Getting to know a place is such a treat. Too often, we aren’t allowed that opportunity because we’re passing through or quickly whisked away to other places and responsibilities. If time allows, find a place and get to know all its nuances and intricacies. There’s a world inside.
Here are some words and photos that sum up our trip. I hope you enjoy them.