Sunday, January 27, 2013

Freezing Cold Hike with the Outdoors Club and a Rock Climbing Adventure

This adventure starts with me having 3 days off of work so naturally I decide to head down to Monmouth for some company (since all my friends back home are work on Fridays). 
After making a bank run with Alissa for her job I head down to Monmouth to kill some time before meeting some people for a hike at 2pm.  I meet up with my new friend Sam (who I met recently on a trip to Canada), plus 3 girls Becca (Gidget), Jackie, and Rachel (who I have hiked with before on other outdoors club hikes).  
The weather today is below freezing outside and although it is sunny, it is rather nippy out. Plus the weather channel is calling for snow an hour after starting our excursion. Thankfully we are all troopers and ready.  The girls actually look like little puff balls with all the layers they have on. We are all excited and in good spirits.  The girls already know each other so start talking right away and Sam is able to get comfortable with the new company.  For me, it’s nice to catch up as we go along since I don’t see everyone that often.  
The start is not very difficult and although I have hiked and biked this trail quite recently, it feels very different. The tiny bit of snow dusting that covers earth gives the path a beautiful wintery feel.  On most hikes I go on, something interesting always catches someone’s attention and side excursions randomly form. Today is no different and it is Sam’s eye and fun attitude that spots some slanted trees and a side gulley. He jokingly says that we should check it out.  When he says he’s going to follow me I start. It is more than enough excuse for me to do something dumb. 
First I walk over to the side gulley. It’s a steep slope but it looks doable… yet very slippery.  I calculate and figure that  if I go full speed running, I can make it down and use the side wall bank to keep my momentum and make it even further down the slope.  Of course, I go for it, hit the first bank at full speed and turn sharply further down, ducking under branches and jumping over obstacles without slowing my pace.  At the next turn, I duck at a strange angle, can’t stay up so I do the next best thing and fall/roll. I keep my momentum in a 360 and pop right back up onto my feet.  It was really fun but as I make it further down, the ground levels out and the brush becomes too thick to plow a path through.  I run back up and rejoin our group.  Sam is excited about the side adventures so I turn and face the other way:  to where there are two down slanted trees.  I look at Sam to see if he is up for the challenge but he lets me go first to test the trunks.  With my usual spider monkey skills, I climb up pretty quickly and make it all the way to the top.

 From the top, I  decide to try and make it down by climbing one of the small trees that is holding up the fallen tree that I am currently standing on.  As I am climbing down and dangling from one arm holding onto a branch, I hear my phone ring.  Since I am waiting on a call from Mike and Bill, I decide to go ahead and dig my phone out of my pocket to pick up.  It’s Bill, so I give him the quick hello of “Hey Bill, let me call you back. I’m currently in a tree.” He knows me well enough, that he is not surprised in the least.   

Since it’s cold outside and I am not sure how Sam feels about heights, we decide to continue hiking. The trails are nice mountain biking trails, so there are lots of turns on berms, ups and downs, as well as some little bridges over little streams.  We make our way up one hill and down the other side to where the trail begins to follow the river.  We all stop to bask in the glory of the view and take some pictures.

  We spot a cool looking tree the hangs over the water.  Someone notices it and jokes about me climbing it so I get closer to it.  I would have climbed up but on the floor in front of it I notice a huge dead bird.  It is a blue heron and it is massive.

   I can’t help but pick up its frozen body by the feet to tease the girls. Its body is so stiff that even with all the weight, its body stays rigid and fights gravity as I hold it up right.  I take the huge dead bird as a sign to not climb the tree.  Falling in the water would have been miserable, so I am ok with skipping it.   From here, we follow the trail along the river. It is pleasantly easy going but it isn’t very long before Sam and I get distracted by a downed tree that I think we can use to cross to the other side of the river.  Although it is slick with snow and full of tiny loose branches from when the river levels rose during the floods, I still decide to walk across upright. When I make it to the other side, it’s fun for me to watch Sam try and shimmy across on his butt because he fears falling in the water.

In his defense, it’s hard to balance across a log.  Every time I do it, it scares me more than you would think.  Anyway, as I wait for Sam to cross, the girls get bored and go trot off into the woods a little further to find a small frozen pond.  I can hear shrieks of terror and laughter as they tromp around and smash through the thin ice. In the distance from the direction we came, I can see a body running our way.  It’s our buddy Mike running to catch up.  Sam, Mike and I join the girls playing on the thin ice.  I think Sam tries to show off when he first gets on the ice, but he somehow busts his ass.  I just catch his fall out of the corner of my eye and I hear the ice shatter under the weight of his body.  He is fine and everyone is laughing.  We push a little further back and find a deeper pond that you can tell has water underneath, unlike the thin breaking ice section we played on earlier.  Everyone is nervous to get on it except for me, so I test it out.  It’s perfectly fine and even hold under me jumping and stomping. We take some pictures and play on the ice all together.  We even try to grab Jackie by her feet and swing her around on the ice, but no matter what we try, we can’t get enough of a grip on her foot to pull and spin her well enough. Even so it’s a pretty fun attempt.  

We continue along the trail next to the river before it heads up a fairly steep hill.  It is a hill that Mike and I have tried to bike up before.  Between its steepness, loose leaves and giant roots neither of us have ever made it up without having to get off our bikes.  Maybe one day.  
At the top we stop and notice a spot that drops off with a really nice slope. It looks like a sweet super advanced bike route/water run off point that I doubt anyone has ever used.  Having passed it and thought about it many times before, I can’t help myself and decide to go for it. I run down the path with all its loose footing and hidden roots at full speed using the walls in front of me to make a sharp enough turn to continue down.  It drops off super-fast onto a really thin section of trail where I barely avoid some bushes by using the side wall berm.  At the bottom, where I’m already going too fast to stop I notice my biggest problem… The river is dead ahead.  Luckily at the last second, I snag a tree limb and whip my momentum to the side to save myself from being miserably cold and wet.  In my head I think, I cannot wait for summer to try this again with a bike so I can take the jump into the river.  The 4 or 5 foot drop off looks like it would feel amazing.  I can only wonder what the group thinks just happened as I dropped off out of sight.  
I make it back up pretty quickly.  Instead of heading back on the main trail, we take a little side trail to a little lookout where you can see the water pump station and a tiny little manmade waterfall.  Right in front of us is another almost trail looking steep  drop off.  I’m pretty sure it’s just a run off point but we have an awesome group of adventures today so we all decide to go for it.  It’s really steep and slippery but the girls have no problem and the boys naturally are down without a thought.  At the bottom, there is a little used unmarked trail we decide to follow.  At this point it has started to snow a little.  I love walking through the woods in the snow because the effect  light has on each tiny flake is beautiful against the background of the woods. 

Of course, we get distracted again when we find another little frozen pond to play on.  This one is a little deeper and from what I can tell also a little thinner.  It has a nice section with plants visible through the ice and another section of leaves frozen in place.  As I am staring down at the green plants thinking about how they manage to survive, I spot something flash by.  At first I think it is just my eyes, my imagination, but it happens again. It is a tiny fish trying to hide.  As soon as I say the word fish, everyone heads over to me. As they get closer, we hear the most terrifying sound… Crack.  Thankfully it does not fully break through with all of our weight.  We all disperse to different sections and take turns spotting little fish amazingly surviving the wintery ice conditions.  Only a few feet away, I notice one other beautiful thing hidden in the ice. There are frozen bubbles trapped in the layers of the ice.  They are piled right on top of each other.  Although they are small, when you look at them closely they make for a beautiful gift from nature. 

I hate to be a party pooper, but I can tell it is getting late and the sun is fading.  With the dropping temperature and us not having headlamps to hike with, I make the call to head back up the steep runoff trail and follow the actual trail back to the car.  I can tell that no one is really ready to leave but we all head back and are secretly excited to rejoin the pleasures of a nicely heated car.  Thankfully we leave when we do because it not only gets darker quickly but also starts to snow heavier as we pull out.  From there we go to campus to grab some dinner at the dining hall before getting ready to go rock climbing afterwards.  
We only lose one, Becca, when we go climbing.  I seem to have convinced everyone plus we combine forces with Dave, Lucas, David, Pat and his friend John who we convince last second at dinner.  It looks like it will be a big, fun group to climb with. 

I realize it’s hard to write about climbing, especially gym climbing so I’ll keep this simple.  We start by giving the newcomers,  John and the girls the breakdown of how the climbs work.  First and most basic, we are bouldering: climbing the shorter walls without ropes. It’s a good place to start for them.  We show them the routes to follow based on color; each is rated based on the hardest move of the climb.  Our little intro is quick and then the fun begins with all of us hitting different sections of the boulder problems in the middle of the Garden state rocks gym. 
The layout is the same as the last time I was at the gym but all the problems are updated and new.  Recently, there was even a competition so all the routes are clearly marked and scored.  I bust out my go-pro camera to get some fun footage after I get a bunch of solid climbs in so that my body can rest.  It’s amazing how much and how fast your arms pump themselves out if you take a break from climbing at all. Other than filming some of the climbs, the highlights of the night are fooling around trying to do some of the dynos that are set up around the gym and landing on the big fluffy crash pads.  Everyone gives it a go.  I am happy with myself because although I can’t climb some of the harder climbs at least my form is getting better slowly and steadily. I can read and feel the wall better.  
I also learn that I love chimney climbing style and crack climbing styles.  I got up further on the crack then some of the guys that work at the gym.  Plus, when no one was looking at the end of the night I played traverse the wall sideways instead of up and when I got to the awkward corner gap where two doors create a huge gap between walls I still somehow monkeyed past it by keeping pressure on both walls.  It was a pretty awesome session climbing with a lot of fun loving people.