Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Swimming Hole - Tar Creek Tribute Video

Sitting around on a rainy late December weekend inevitably brings back memories of what happened at one of the finest bouldering areas on Earth almost 8 years ago now. The Swimming Hole sported 300+ problems in an unbelievable concentration of perfect stone, superb boulders and an idyllic setting. It was nothing short of a dreamland and if I may paraphrase a quote from my own book, I wrote something like "You could not climb, not get drunk, not get laid and still have the best day of your life out there, it's that good." (also interesting is my priority list of what my best day was considered).

Tar Creek, January 5, 2005. Very high, very muddy water. photo: colm fitzgerald
In late December 2004 a series of storms began to hit the Central Coast in rapid succession with massive amounts of rain and widespread damage. The worst of the storm hit on January 10th, 2005 with pounding monsoon-style rainfall. Official data recorded just shy of 15 inches of rain in Ventura over a 15 day period culminating in the storm of January 10th. This massive rainfall increased creek flows substantially, and Tar Creek, home to The Swimming Hole boulders was flowing like mad. To complicate matters, there had been a forest fire that swept through Tar Creek a little over a year prior, decimating vegetation on the steep hillsides above The Swimming Hole. The lack of significant root systems essentially holding the hillside together as it should resulted in incredible amount of mud flowing into Tar Creek turning it into a very massive, heavy and therefore powerful flow.

In mid-January, 2005 I left for a surf trip to Costa Rica. Three weeks later I returned to the U.S.A. and walked off of a jet at LAX and turned on my telephone. After being gone 3 weeks I had exactly one voice-mail (shows you how popular I am). I'll never forget the message. It was Jeff Johnson and he said, "Bob, The Swimming Hole as we know it no longer exists. It's gone dude, everything's gone. All of it. I was walking around in a daze, I still can't believe it."

Jeff Johnson on XXX with me and Aaron Sandlow spotting and SB strongman Robby Robinson watching in the foreground. A crux hairy mantel awaits at the top and there's only one pad down there kids, cause that's how the Swimming Hole Crew rolls. Every piece of stone that you see in this photo doesn't exist anymore. Pretty sure the late Mike Reardon took this photo probably winter/spring 2002/2003.
On January 10th the storms had peaked in a big way and in doing so swept away virtually every single boulder in the creek. Big ones, small ones, large chunks of the sculpted sandstone canyon walls. All gone. One of the coolest and hardest "water problems", Johnson's brilliant "Aquaman" had been entirely calved off. Boulders bigger than my house were simply not there anymore. One of the only boulders that survived the deluge, the Wave Boulder, had been flipped upside down, turned around and swept downstream where it remains to this day (and home to a few nice problems I might add). The Swimming Hole as it was, was no more.

Our crew went in as a group in March and had a sort of "eulogy" for the place we all spent so much time in and had so much fun. I still agree with what I said in Ocean's 11, you don't have to climb, get drunk or get's a magical place no matter what. But to be honest, since it was swept away I have returned a total of twice. In eight years. It's too weird to see it the way it is now and the rest of the old crew is no different than myself.

To finalize: This post is relevant 8 years later for another reason. Rumor has it that the Tar Creek access is being slated for closure because of overuse and vandalism. This is sad. Back when we were going there all the time there was no trash. People came in, partied, camped, left their shit and we'd take it out. Trash was never there for more than a week. EVERY ONE of our crew carried a trash bag. When a few complete shithead fuckwad cocksmokers tagged a few boulders in the late 90s, Johnson bought supplies and went out and cleaned it off himself. He even contacted Fillmore police to see if they recognized the tags. We fucking loved that place so much and I feel bad that we haven't been there to watch over her in the last 8 years.

But the stewards have to be the current users. Climbers don't frequent The Swimming Hole like in the old days, but they do frequent other areas and something can be learned. Carry a trash bag everywhere you climb. That fingertape in the dirt, pick it up. The cigarette butt your buddy just flicked into the dirt or the bottle cap he popped off into the bushes, make the sorry fucker look for it and put it in his pocket. Take care of these places. Period.

I made this video back in 2005 and compiled all the footage I had of as many boulder problems as I had recorded and made this for The Swimming Hole Crew. I didn't tote a video camera down there much and when I did it was usually on solo missions which explains why there's so much footage of me. I never had a problem putting a camera on a tripod and shooting myself, but rarely was able to stick a camera in someone else's face. Talk about narcissism! But I'm glad I did what I did because there's something of a historical log now. In homage to Jeff and Paul and and the rest of the crew, no ratings are given in the video. Some problems are very easy, some are very, very hard. They were all great, every one.

Every single problem shown in this video no longer exists.

Post-script: The ultimate irony of The Swimming Hole comes from the closing pages of Ocean's 11 when I quoted Jeff Johnson who said, "These boulders are like tombstones, they'll be here long after we're gone." He actually said that and we actually believed it. But in reality, we are the tombstones.

More on The Swimming Hole:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

One from the VHS Vault

I get several hundred requests a day for more quality content, so who am I to deny my beloved readers. Here's the epitome of VCR to VCR tape editing, a mini-climbing video I made back in 1998 during the last days of The Castle. Now digitized and available to my legions of King-Dino fans in blistering High Definition and Hi-Fi audio, here it is: Santa Maria 1997-1998.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's In A Name?

A recent question over on Mountain Project about the name of a local boulder problem got me to thinking about the the meaning/history of some others names around the area. Here's some off the top of my head that may have had people wondering, "Where the hell did that come from?"

Paul Dusatko at the business of She Made Me Do It.
The one that started the discussion was Rick Fredland's awesome traverse, She Made Me Do It at Skofield Park and also the sister problems, She Had Nothing To Do With It and She Didn't Want Me To Do It, both at Lizard's Mouth. The 'she' at issue was Rick's girlfriend at the time. He'd been working The Skofield traverse for a while without success and one day after some drama with the lady, went out there frustrated and promptly sent. The Lizard's Mouth problems were casual plays on the naming of the first one (and he didn't even name the last one). No sordid story here, he eventually married her and they continue to live happily ever.

Thomi Adank on the first ascent of The Dancing Outlaw.
The Dancing Outlaw at The Brickyard got put up in the late 90s when we were watching the Indie documentary about West Virginia's Jesco White, called, you guessed it, The Dancing Outlaw. If you've never seen this movie, stop what you're doing and find it on the internet somewhere. There's lots of snippets on Youtube as well. We were so fascinated with this flick that we had it playing near daily for a while at the house. Also, this is one of those problems that had a name before an ascent, I started calling it The Dancing Outlaw pretty much right off the bat, it just fit. And since my good friend Thomi had scooped the prize of the boulder while I was on the disabled list, I had to settle for putting up the right side version of The Dancing Outlaw, which I named after a line that Jesco says during one of his stories in the movie, Double Super Buzz. I'd try to explain it, but it's much easier to see/hear, so skip to 1:38:

Also, The Dancing Outlaw boulder was originally called the Bluegrass Boulder, primarily because I was climbing with Jonathan Kingston a lot back then and he liked bluegrass music. Dancing Outlaw was too classic a problem though and it just took over the name of the boulder since that's how things work. Anyways, that's why all the old problems (that don't involve Jesco) are names of, or lines from, bluegrass songs: Old and In the Way, I Ain't Broke But I'm Badly Bent, Lonesome Pine, etc. The mega-classic and wonderfully named Smooth Criminal (after the Michael Jackson song) went up a bit after all these, courtesy of the dynamic duo of Neil Crancer and Dave Hunt. I was psyched they kept a sort-of theme going with the Outlaw/Criminal element. Genius name for a genius boulder problem.

See Ya at The Yard, Meat. kingston images
Unknown attempting Grotesque Old Woman, Friday 12/7/12.
See Ya at The Yard, Meat is a line from the only Kevin Costner movie ever made that was worth watching, Bull Durham, except nobody seems to call it that but me (generally referred to as The Font Problem). Science is A Cruel Mistress is a line from the opening scene of the old Castle favorite The Big Blue. No significance here, I just thought it's a funny line. When I first started working All Mod Cons I realized it had a little bit of everything: cave, slab, kneebar, toehook, heelhook, campus move, crimps, a pinch, slopers, even a mono. All Mod Cons is a British slang term for "All Modern Conveniences". It also happens to be the title of one of my favorite albums by British punk/mod band The Jam when I was a kid. Grotesque Old Woman and Mister Witty are just Leube-isms and Austrian traveler Chris "The Normal Guy" Leube has left his mark on numerous bouldering areas around the globe with identically named problems so you can always tell he was there. Bishop boulderers will likely recognize both names from problems at The Happies. Chris also lent his name to one of my all-time favorite problem names, Leubering With Intent, a crimpy V8 at The Sad Boulders that he projected for a bit too long before Wills Young swooped in to nab the FA and coined it with its brilliant moniker. Wills has always had a pretty good knack for naming stuff.

Dr. Kristin Collins attempting King Dinosaur. kingston images
Over at the Lizard's Mouth, stacks of problems went up during what was called Martini Summer of 1996, and the brunt of them were coined after film noir references. The High Hat is a line from the Coen brothers' finest film, Miller's Crossing. Phyllis Diedrickson, the femme fatale in Double Indemnity and Kathy Moffat the femme fatale from Out of The Past. King Dinosaur was a favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie while We Brought the Atom Bomb, I Think Now Would be A Good Time to Use It is a line from King Dinosaur. The Dena problems: Dena in the Hole, Dena Goes to Gulf City, Steady Diet of Dena, Vamp, Ketel One and Gordon's all derived from a certain dark haired seductress who tended bar and poured martinis for the boys at The Blue Agave. Serious as a Deacon (if I recall correctly) is a line from Sweet Smell of Success, but was also one of many lines poached from various films in the brilliant homage to film noir that Steve Edwards and Todd Mei made in 1998, Icarus Descending. The best problem busting out of the Meilee Cave: Faded, Fat, Greedy Women is a line from Shadow of a Doubt.

I could write pages about names of the problems at our dearly missed Swimming Hole. Jeff Johnson has always taken pride in giving proper names to proper ascents and couple that with the perennial jokester Paul Anderson and you had an area stacked with great names. Entry Fee was the most obvious line on the first major freestanding boulder that marked the beginning of the Swimming Hole bouldering (AJP was 1/4 mile closer upstream but not really 'the beginning' of the real concentration of boulders). It was said that everyone must pay their Entry Fee, and it wasn't cheap, a delicate bit of 5.11 climbing on absolutely perfect stone. The Wave was a perfectly smooth boulder with minimal features and a mini-dihedral leading up a curling face, Microwave was a miniature version around the corner of the big boy.

The Heckler. Johnson spotting, Reardon shooting video.
The Texas Flake Boulder, aptly named for the enormous detached flake shaped almost exactly like the left edge of Texas, had the ultra-thin Paul Anderson testpiece, The Heckler, named after the prodigious amounts of shit-talking that frequented Swimming Hole sessions (Paul was and is the master). On the corner was the devious Troublemaker and the sister problem Makin' Trouble, both are regarding Wills and if I remember correctly, Troublemaker was Johnson directed at Wills, and Makin' Trouble was Wills firing back at Johnson. Genius.

Thomi trying to slam dunk Magic Johnson.

One of the greatest problems that ever existed on the planet, Jeff Johnson's Magic Johnson, was so perfectly named because it was such a classic double entendre. Firstly, the move up to the sloper was a massive palm open slap as if you were slam-dunking a basketball and secondly, success seemed so implausible that it was like a magic trick when it worked. The 'magic' theme carried on to the other problems on the boulder, Smoke and Mirrors, which was less magic, and just brutally hard, and the easiest of the tri-fecta, Hocus Pocus. Also in the area that we lovingly referred to as The Pit of Power, was Meateater, a very high and very committing arete that Jeff named after vying for the first ascent with Wills Young. The story was that Wills was eating nuts and berries (or something like that) while out bouldering and Jeff thought it was kind of funny. Jeff and Wills weren't exactly seeing 'eye-to-eye' at the time, shall we say. (It should be noted that Wills was not and as far as I know still isn't a vegetarian). Starting around the corner from The Pit sits The Handicapper, named so for obvious reasons. As far as I know the veracity of the name was never tested, you either didn't get very far off the ground or you sent. Left of The Handicapper started The Mad Cow Traverse, which along the same time as some tension between Jeff and Wills, Jeff got first and coined it as a dig on the British-raised Young (Mad Cow disease in England was big news back then).

.........I could go on about the Swimming Hole, but damn it gets depressing to think that everything I mentioned here is gone. And hell, with two blog posts in two weeks I don't want to get carried away.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Revisiting Psyche

Since I haven't posted anything in over a year and since it's been pouring down rain for a few days, here we go.

Today I picked up my old copy of Edwards' Santa Barbara Bouldering (1997) and thumbed through it for the first time in over a decade. Marked on the inside cover with my name and The Castle phone number should I lose it, it's quite a walk down memory lane. The book is bound together with a rubber band, torn up and marked up with scribbled field notes and comments on nearly every page. At my current state of climbing psyche, it's hard to believe how psyched I once was, spending every rest day walking through the hills looking for more stuff.

One of the more interesting pages is one of the maps to The Brickyard (map 2) which covers the area from The Ant Boulder, called The Cryptozoology Area, to over past The Soot Patrol Boulder, called The Backyard. There's lots of good stuff in these scribblings, most importantly what would become most of the problems on The Dancing Outlaw boulder, noted on the next page as "overhanging boulder with 2 or 3 very nice hard problems...needs some good cleaning and a tree trim."

Starting at the upper left of the map, in my notes "Behind the cave boulder" would mean behind The Soot Patrol Boulder. To get one oriented, problems 108 and 109 are Watch the Dog and Soot Patrol, and in my notes, problem c) "2 or 3 hard cave problems" became Dancing Outlaw, etc., d)  Smooth Criminal, and noted as "nice problem" a) Old & In the Way, a problem I still think is a great moderate. Moving over to The Soot Patrol boulder, problems 110 and 111 are Mister Witty and Clean the Grill respectively, between them I noted "ss cave to crimps", which became All Mod Cons. The face around the corner between 111 and 112 (Draw or Call) I wrote in "slab", which became Science is a Cruel Mistress. Speaking of Draw or Call, next to its entry a couple pages later I wrote down "Fucking hairy! R or X rating for sure". I've done Draw or Call exactly twice and broke holds off of it both times. It's high and it's choss. One of the times I snapped a hold off and hit the ground tumbling back to the boulder behind just barely missing conking the shit out of my head, barely grazing it on the rock. I remember Ratso running over to me and licking my face to make sure I was ok. The problem may have cleaned up by now, but I'll certainly never do it again.

Other interesting notes in The Brickyard section are Grotesque Old Woman (problem 89 on the map), which Steve gave 1 star, I emphatically wrote "FANTASTIC!! ***" followed by "sit-start maybe V8/V9?". The sit-start turned in at a much harder V10 although I remember Wills dispatching of it very shortly after we showed it to him.

Also, many people don't know that Mister Witty was once a 3 star V5 in its original rendition. There were originally two large plates at the lip of the overhang making everything significantly easier to get on the slab, not to mention there used to be a big knob to grab once you got your feet up. Well, first the left plate broke (it was still V5 but a bit harder) and then the right hand plate broke, leaving you with those measley crimps that exist to this day to negotiate your way over the lip. My first note is "hasn't gone since another hold broke". The guy who broke the second lip hold wanted to glue it back on but I expressed my distaste for that idea and we kept trying it. My second note (too bad I didn't put dates on things) reads "V7 now, very nice!". The top knob broke a couple years later, but didn't affect the grade enough to change it. It's a great problem still, but I remember the original V5 Mister Witty with all holds intact being better.

As a final note on Steve's fabulous original SB bouldering guide, I have two copies on my bookshelf. The copy pictured above is one of the first that came out of the box when Steve received them from the printer, and the copy shown to the right is most definitely the last one sold on the retail market. I walked into Mountain Air one day, which was the last place that still had copies to sell (I was doing the distribution for Steve at the the time), and they had a single copy left. So I bought it.