Category: Issue 92

Editor’s Note: The Void

A hard look at risk

By Matt Niswonger

Walking back to the car after leaving a restaurant I attempted to hold hands with my 12-year-old son Lukas. He held my hand for just a brief second and then yanked it away. Nothing personal, he’s just not that into holding hands with his dad in public. “It’s weird, dad,” he explained. I laughed.

I find myself needing lots of affection from Lukas lately. About a month ago, while descending from a multi-pitch climb in Yosemite, Lukas almost fell off a cliff and died. I can’t get it out of my mind. So I just keep hugging him and reaching out for affection.

Our chosen Yosemite adventure was the Sunnyside Bench Regular Route, a classic three-pitch 5.4 climb that is the easiest way to ascend into “Middle Earth,” a climbers-only hiking area perched between lower and upper Yosemite Falls about 150 …

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Fan mail, feedback, ideas & opinions


Letters to the Editor: In response to “The High Cost of Selling Out” in ASJ #90


Hi Matt. Thank you for not giving up on your dream that day you ran out of water on the Zodiac trail at Yosemite and thank you for writing about it. I’m chilling enjoying a snack and a break from work for a bit at a Whole Foods in Santa Monica, CA.

I’m glad you realized that you don’t have to compromise your life because you’re a father. Your choice to not give up left you relying on a miracle which only reinforces my belief that when your heart has a real desire to realize something, the entire universe works in your favor through people, circumstances and events to get you to realize that dream or desire.

I’m not a father … yet. While I’d …

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Ear to the Ground Aug / Sept 2016

Outdoor News and Notes for the California Region


Red Bull Heavy Water Kicks Off in San Francisco

The Red Bull Heavy Water stand up paddleboard race is scheduled to take place in San Francisco in September. The exact date is TBD and depends on conditions. Requiring the perfect mix of paddling skills, ocean knowledge, supreme fitness and the courage to take on one of the most intimidating stretches of coastline in the world, the Red Bull Heavy Water will test the best stand up paddleboarders in what promises to be a dramatic challenge.

An intense 12km course will see athletes leave from San Francisco’s notorious Ocean Beach to battle their way in and out of the surf towards the Golden Gate Bridge for possibly the most challenging race the sport has ever seen.

Once the laps through the surf have been completed the athletes will be in the open ocean,

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EPiC: Born to Be Wild

The story of the Wildlands Conservancy

By Leonie Sherman

Twenty years ago an anonymous investor decided to give away his money. He donated almost a billion dollars to nonprofits, and became one of the largest backers of California conservation in history. He says the money he gave to The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC) is the best investment he ever made.

“Most of that money he gave away is in the rear view mirror,” explains David Myers, Executive Director of TWC. “But the money he gave to start and support our organization for the first 15 years, that money is in the present tense. He can come visit our preserves and see where his money went. He calls The Wildlands Conservancy ‘the gift that keeps giving.’”

When he visits one of the 14 preserves protecting more than 150,000 acres of estuaries, mountains, desert, oak woodlands, redwoods and historic agricultural land, he …

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The New American Dream

Outdoor adventure enthusiasts take life to the road

By Michele Lamelin

Living life on the road is nothing new for adventure enthusiasts. Climbers have been doing it for decades, living out of their vans, often out of economic necessity in order to pursue their passion. Although a popular way of life among the climbing community, living on the road didn’t go mainstream until fairly recently when “the van life” caught on with individuals, couples and families alike. An explosion in mountain biking has been accompanied by a greater pursuit of this alternative lifestyle.

Tom Doran, founder of Freedom Vans explains, “The van life is all about minimizing costs and maximizing versatility. A stealth camper lets you take home with you anywhere you go. From the outside, people just see a van. Inside, you have everything you need to succeed.” Doran came upon the full time van life unintentionally, after …

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Clair Marie sounds off on bold living and new possibilities

By Michele Lamelin

Clair Marie grew up rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding in her hometown of South Lake Tahoe. Athletic and daring, Clair made her first BASE jump at the age of 16, making her one of the youngest BASE jumpers on record. She discovered a passion for skydiving and at 19 became a certified AFF instructor. Clair recently turned her attention back to rocky terrain, putting fat tires to dirt as a mountain bike racer. She also boasts a successful career as a model and stunt woman and recently founded a clothing company.

We caught up with this lovely dynamo as she tours the west with her boyfriend, Alex. P.S. Be sure to check out Clair’s mobile digs here.

ASJ As of today, how many total BASE jumps have you made? How many skydives? Is there a …

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Buttermilk, Sweet and Sour

How did we get here? Where are we going?

By Doug Robinson

For a while I fancied that I had invented the Buttermilk. After all, in 1969 I made the first ascent of the biggest boulder by roping up, placing two or three nuts, and even sinking a couple of bolts to protect the 5.8 crux, which edged out above the lip of an overhang. But I soon got schooled. Bob Blanchard had already soloed my route—definitely highball to a 70-foot summit—and not bothered to mention it.

I should have guessed. Bob’s father Smoke Blanchard had become Bishop’s first climber in 1941, coming south as a snow mountaineer after setting a speed record climbing Mt. Hood. Smoke soon found the Buttermilk and began scrambling in the granite maze—the one toward town from the boulders—that eventually became Smoke’s Rock Course. Watch out, boulderers: there’s a curious surge of interest these …

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Our Big Blue Backyard

Racing the Spinnaker Cup from San Francisco to Monterey

By Paul Allen

The sound of the wind fills my ears with a roar interrupted only by the boat slamming into the next wave. The 70-foot trimaran rises nearly completely out of the water, as the speed of this extremely light and powerful racing machine accelerates to speeds over 35 knots. The boat then descends from its apex, violently reuniting with the surface of the ocean and a loud crash. Dispersed water blasts its way upwards, exploding through the trampoline netting we use as our deck. The water has the consistency of pebbles, sometimes rocks, as it impacts my body. This is a glimpse of normal sailing aboard a modern offshore racing multihull.

The California coast has some of the most amazing conditions in the world for offshore sailing. Several annual races take advantage of this spectacular playground – yet …

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Laurel Mountain

Lessons learned on a Sierra classic

By Leonie Sherman

The beige and red buttresses of Laurel Mountain tower over Convict Lake like psychedelic sands swirled in a 12,000-foot glass bottle. I first saw the peak from the steaming waters of Hilltop Hot Springs, but it never occurred to me to climb the thing. With all the gleaming granite in the Sierra Nevada, why would a person mess with the crumbling metamorphic rock of the Morrison Cap?

Because alpine master Peter Croft says you should; in his guidebook The Good, the Great and the Awesome, he claims the Northeast Gully on Laurel is one of the top 40 rock climbs in the High Sierra. And when you climb that gully you’re touching climbing history; John Mendenhall led the first belayed climb in the Sierra on this route in 1930. Mountaineering misanthrope Norman Clyde was the first European to touch the …

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The Trail Steward of Carson City

How Jeff Potter united a community of mountain bikers

By Leonie Sherman

Jeff Potter set out to build a trail and ended up building a community. The trail got built, too; seven miles of twisting, turning mountain biking grins, connecting Ash Canyon Road with King’s Canyon Road in the rolling hills of Eagle Valley outside of Carson City, Nevada. And though Potter was rewarded for almost a decade of hard work by a National Trail Award in 2015, he’s quick to point out that it takes a village.

“It’s not one person who gets this done,” Potter explains. “It’s team work that gets these things off the ground.”

In 2007, Potter approached a local non-profit group called Muscle Powered to see if they would be interested in taking on a very ambitious trail construction project. Established in Carson City in 1997 for bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, Muscle Powered has …

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Kids Roll

Mountain biking takes off as fastest growing high school sport

By Dave Robinson

For many of us our fondest memories of riding date back to when we were a pack of kids exploring our local trails on our Schwinns. It didn’t matter if we were on five or ten speeds or even the legendary Stingray — we were finally free of parental guidance and able to find our own path wherever there was dirt.

Things are so very different now with helicopter parents and computers vying for every free moment; today free time in the wilderness seems to be a vanishing commodity. More screen time would seem to suggest less physical exercise outdoors and the Center for Disease Control confirms that adolescent obesity rates have quadrupled in the last thirty years. At a time when all these challenges seem to be coming to a head we are seeing one …

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Pedal to the Metal

Thoughts on the Turbo Levo, a pedal assist electric mountain bike from Specialized

By Kurt Gensheimer

“Just try it.” I found myself saying those three words a lot to my friends over the past few months when they laid eyes on the none-more-black Specialized Turbo Levo, a curious machine I call a motorized off-road bicycle (MORB). The first reaction to my invite was a resounding “no way”, but after a couple minutes of cajoling and promising not to take a photo of them riding a MORB and posting it on the interwebs, they swung a leg over it and took off.

Every single person who rode the Turbo Levo came back with a smile on their face. Like my friend Jon said, “I’ve never not had fun on two wheels.” Obviously he’s never ridden a Segway, but my point is, even for purist mountain bikers who want to hate on …

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