January 29, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Well, it’s official! Today I successfully defended my Master’s Thesis. I now officially have an MS in Atmospheric Science, and my whole committee unanimously recommended me for the PhD program at Colorado State. Yey!

Update – If you are very curious or very bored, you can download and read my thesis at

Joshua Tree Climbing Trip, Day 4

January 21, 2008 at 4:51 pm

We woke up on Monday morning exhausted, beat up and covered in sand. The wind had blown all night long, and the tents had never really stopped flapping like huge manic birds. I actually woke up 2 or 3 times in the night because the side of the tent had been blown so low over the ground that it hit me in the face. Mark found one of our stakes was in the ground backwards and that side of the tent had pulled off the ground in the night.

Other than the tent hitting me in the face, the wind works well for me as white noise and I slept pretty well. Mark used our one set of earplugs and slept pretty well himself. Bruce, however, didn’t get much sleep at all. His new tent was a really nice, new REI Half-dome that had worked perfectly for him all weekend. However, after the wind and blowing sand over the whole night Sunday night, Bruce awoke to everything in his tent covered in about half an inch of yellow dust. The screen mesh that covers the top half of his tent had acted as sieve, allowing only the finest dust to enter and settle around his tent. He stumbled out of his tent in the morning and exclaimed “I have gravel in my hair!”

After seeing Bruce’s tent and yellow face, Mark and I were thankful our tent was in four-season mode and we had totally solid walls. We learned that night that the solid walls are not just good for keeping out bitter cold winds and snow, but also very good at keeping out the huge clouds of sand and dust that had no doubt been buffeting us all night.

Mark and I had a flight out of LAX at 4:30p that afternoon, so we didn’t really have much time for climbing in the morning. Besides, the wind was still gusting and bitter cold. We packed everything up and then headed to town looking for showers (we thought the other people on the plane would appreciate us being a little cleaner). What we found was a really pleasant surprise.

We had been directed from the guys at the climbing shop in Joshua Tree to showers at Coyote Corner. What a great little shop! She had some climbing gear, a lot of T-shirts, organic locally made soap, various new age crystals and juices, scarves, purses and all kinds of local art. And the showers were $3 per token, which buys you a 7 minute shower out back. Mark and I took the bigger shower room and were happy to see the place very clean and full of amenities. Mirrors, a nice big sink, potty and a big hot shower. We didn’t pack towels or shower shoes, but the hot water felt great, and the shower was actually clean. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend the showers at Coyote Corner.

After getting cleaned up, and then buying another guidebook with a better description of route descents, we headed back to LA. The wind was howling the whole way and weather was moving in. Our flight was delayed about 45 minutes because the flight the pilots were on was delayed as well. But we eventually made it home. Happy, scraped, bruised, and I’m still finding sand in our house. Where does it all come from? :)

Joshua Tree Climbing Trip, Day 3

January 20, 2008 at 7:57 pm

I suppose after two great days of climbing in the desert, it was time for an epic. Thanks to Bruce, there are more photos from the weekend up in the gallery, but I actually didn’t end up taking many pictures on this day. After a lot of wandering around the park in the morning, we ended up back at the Hidden Valley Campground, where we spied a pair of climbers working their way up what looked like a ridiculously easy and really fun multi-pitch climb on the west face of the Blob.

Beginner’s Two (5.2 or 5.4R or 5.7R)
This was Bruce’s first multi-pitch, so we explained the process to him, and decided to break up the climb into three short pitches, so we could all climb on the one rope we had with us. The first pitch was super easy, and Mark hiked up with only placing one or two pieces of pro. He set a nice little belay in an alcove which is complained about a bit on the page, evidently. Bruce came up, and I cleaned the pitch. Once I got up there, Mark and I had some discussion as to how proceed from there. The crack ahead of us looked really hard. The face to the left looked kind of easy, but it would be a long time without pro. The crack to our right looked like it had good pro and decent holds. Mark went that way.

It turned out to be a really hard, short section of climbing. Mark was rather freaking out as he had no pro until he was through the whole thing. He climbed the rest of the pitch without any problem, and called it the “foot cruncher” pitch because he ended up walking up a trough that was about 4in wide for about 50ft. Bruce did a great job seconding, he stemmed through the creepy thin crack and pulled himself up on the bad holds. He even stemmed through the foot cruncher section! I cleaned the pitch, and found that crux to be hard, and I was very impressed at how well both Mark and Bruce had climbed it.

The final pitch was straight-forward and great. It sounds infamous on the comments, but we all had a great time with it. Another wide crack, this one was not too hard, not too easy. Mark ended up walking our only 3.5 cam that we brought with us up with him as he climbed, eventually using it as his anchor on top of the rock. Bruce topped out after having a great time on the climb, and immediately started taking pictures and scrambling around the top of this 200ft tall rock. I passed Mark after cleaning the pitch, and then belayed him up from his exposed seat after he cleaned the anchor.

Beginner’s Two Descent
This was where the real excitement came in. We scrambled down to the right of the route on easy slabs. Bruce found a creepy looking anchor made of old slings and bolts, that looked like it was well more than half a rope off the ground. We kept scrambling down. Eventually we came to a big ledge and weren’t sure where to go from there. Suddenly a girl appeared over the edge with a few cams and a nice blue rope happy after finishing her lead. We all said “Hi!” and she set an anchor to bring up her second. I guess they were climbing Buissonier (5.7). She turned to us and asked “So, do you guys know how to get off the rock?” and that’s when we were suddenly worried.

Mark and I were like “So, we can’t keep going that way?” And she said it was a 5.7 route that we probably didn’t want to down climb. By this time we had a few people staring up at us from the campground about 100ft below. Mark and I were pretty sure we could toss a sling or rope around one of the big rocks and rap off, but we didn’t see any other slings or evidence of ropes in the area. Weird. As the other girl’s second finished their climb and they started coiling their rope, somebody yelled up from below “Hey, do you know how to get down??” We yelled down “Not really!” and they yelled up “We’ll send somebody up to show you!”

We all hung out a little longer. The sun was getting low at this point, and the wind was starting to pick up a little bit. Not more than 5 minutes after the first couple finished their 5.7 a guy came jogging up that climb. He got near the belay spot and and yelled down “Hey tom, give me a lot of slack! Or, just, OFF-BELAY”

He headed off to our right (back to the west side of the rock) and hurriedly showed the other pair the “walk-off” which turned out to be our choice of a deep, dark 25ft tall chimney or traversing and slowly down climbing a 5.5 slab that’s 50ft off the ground. As the second from the previous pair stood on the slab for almost 10 minutes, unable to commit to the next movement and beginning to shake, we decided to go for the chimney.

Mark set a quick and bomber anchor and got ready to belay me down. I would climb down first and give him the beta he would need to solo it last. I tied in and started down. The top of the crack was just about perfect butt-width, and I wiggled my way down to a set of huge holds and then the slabby bottom section without much problem. Bruce had a little more trouble and Mark ended up lowering him. Mark cleaned the anchor and tossed down the rope. He then wiggled his own way down the squeeze chimney with no problem. It just looked bad from on top. Once you’re in it, it was way easier than some of the down-climb chimney’s we’ve done in ‘Voo.

I also talked to the guy who came up for us as he prepared to take another lap and show the walk-off to another group who had just gotten to the “confusion ledge” as we reached the ground. He said his name was Mike. He asked where we were from, and when I said Northern Colorado and that we usually climbed in Vedauwoo, he gave me a shocked look and said “Wow. I hear that if you can climb in Vedauwoo, you can climb anywhere.” I said “Really?” and then he was off free-soloing the 5.7 to collect the next group of out-of-towners.

Fanning the Flames

In the end
The sun set as we packed up our gear from the day. I was really glad we weren’t stuck on top of that rock after dark. Finding the chimney down climb would have been impossible without help or being able to see anything. By the time we got back to the campground, the wind was howling. We were lucky that there was a rock between us and the wind blasting straight out of the south, but it still howled around and threatened to blow our fire out of the ring and into the brush of the desert. We ate canned food quickly and were tucked into our flapping tents by 7:30p, again.

Joshua Tree Climbing Trip, Day 2

January 19, 2008 at 7:07 pm

On Saturday morning we woke up early, and I bugged the guys until they got packed into the car with plenty of daylight left for climbing. The goal of the day was to drive south through the park until Mark saw a rock he wanted to climb, and then stop and climb it! Which was how we ended up at Intersection Rock for the day on Saturday morning. There are photos from the day (and the weekend) up in the gallery.

The classic climbs on this rock (the “ski tracks”) were all on the north face of the rock, and so in shadow all day and out of the question. We wandered around to the south side of the rock, where we found a nice long climb to start the day out with.

Mike’s Books (5.8 var) – Our “warm up” climb for the day was rated 5.6 in the guidebook, which pointed out that the rating was for a route which scrambled up easy slabs to the left, traversed across a tricky looking (and poorly protected) narrow sloped ledge which was only a foot below the roof above it, and then continued up the long fun-looking crack above. Mark and I both had immediate recall of our adventures on Baobob Tree, and opted for the 5.8 direct start variation to the climb.

This variation was, no doubt, hard. You had to jam in to the flaring hand crack and hang on your hands while lifting your feet into the crack at your waist and then somehow move up from there. Mark actually made the hard part look fairly easy, and then nearly took a huge whipper before getting in a second piece of pro! He caught himself as I was already 3 steps down the rock below the climb running backwards to take slack out of the system. He added a second piece and then moved up into the fun 5.6 dihedral above, and had a grand time climbing the rest of the route. Being the tradmaster he is, Mark even slung a large pointy flake for pro in the widening top section.

Mark set a belay on top of the route, to leave in the possibility of finishing the climb on a second pitch and topping out the rock. Bruce seconded the climb, and made it through the hard part with a little help from me below. He really enjoyed the nice face climbing in the dihedral above as well. I climbed and cleaned the route next, and had a hard time with the bottom, but found my way through it. I worked so hard on my way up the climb that Mark and I opted to scrub plans for a second pitch and simply rapped off the climb. Once down on the ground, we found that our ropes ran as a nice TR for the 10b to the right, so we relaxed in the sun, ate some lunch, did a little yoga and then got back to business.

Yoga in the Desert

Water Chute (5.10b R) – As the comments on the MP page point out, the crux for this climb is getting off the ground. Mark tried many, many different things before climbing up the thin face far to the right of the chute, and then delicately transferring his weight across a step that was probably wider than I am tall. Bruce used a little help from all of us, and then made it into the chute. He worked hard to get in, he worked hard on his way up, and he worked really hard in the second crux of the climb, a narrow section with no holds to help you wiggle into, and rock faces on either side of the chimney slick with old climbing shoe rubber. He worked hard for almost half an hour, but made no headway, and decided to come down when it looked like further scraping and bruising just wouldn’t help. Great work though, Bruce!

I hit climb with my own style, finding a double arm bar in the bottom of the chute and then slowly wiggling my way up into it (after falling many times, of course). The rest of the route was lots of fun, with chimney moves, crack jamming in a narrow crack at the back, and some really delicate and interesting stemming. I beat the middle crux with a combination of a painful (not taped any more) half of a left hand jam and seriously thin stemming moves. Mark was so excited by my new approach to the start, that he climbed the route again after I got down, doing the same double-arm bar and half humping/half wiggling his way into the bottom of the chute.

After this painfest, we all three decided we were done for the day. We packed up, and spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening driving south through the park and seeing some other sites. We took a little hike through the Split Rock area, and eventually drove back to town. To celebrate the hard work of the day, we bought a pack of hotdogs, two packages of firewood, and enough cheep mexican beer and girly drinks to keep us all happy. We then spent a wonderful evening hanging out by a warm fire, eating burnt hotdogs and gazing at the huge numbers of stars in the clear desert sky above us.

Joshua Tree Climbing Trip, Day 1

January 18, 2008 at 7:50 am

After the meeting at UCLA, Bruce drove up from San Diego and picked me up on the campus Thursday evening. We did grocery shopping for the long weekend, which was a bit of an experience for Bruce as we were going to be camping without a cooler. Bruce had not looked so hard at food in cans in a long time! After a nice dinner in Westwood Village, we headed out to the airport to pick up Mark, and then hit the highway and drove out to Joshua Tree. We made it to the campsite at about 1am, put up our tents and hit the sack, all excited about what our first day of climbing would hold.

I’ve got photos from the weekend up in the gallery.

We camped in the Indian Cove campground for the weekend, which is one of the lower altitude campgrounds in the national park, and we hoped a little warmer for it. To keep everything simple the first day, we took our time getting up, making our breakfast and packing up for climbing. We then wandered past about 5 campsites or 100ft east to Short Wall and started our climbing day.

Double Crack (5.3) – Mark started out the day with a great lead of this nice little route. Bruce and I followed and had a lot of fun. The anchor at the top used our three biggest pieces we brought, two #3s, and the #3.5.

Tight Shoes (5.7R) – I moved the TR to the left after my climb up the previous route, and then we all took a ride on this little slab climb. It was tricky, and I lost my footing a couple of times, but once we all got used to the friction on the slab, the route was pretty straight forward.

Linda’s Crack (5.2/4) – Mark moved the TR to the left once again so we could take a ride on the fat crack on the wall. Linda’s Crack turned out to be a bit wide for an OW, with some nice face features that kept it from getting too hard. I wouldn’t want to lead it, but we all had a great time climbing it.

SOB (5.6) – As the sun hovered just above the horizon, we decided to head up one more crack. Mark lead up this one with no problem at all, and Bruce and I followed him happily. It was nice way to finish the day, by standing on top of rock and watching the sunset.

We cleaned the climb and hurried down because the temperature dropped rapidly after we lost our sun. We packed up and headed back to camp, where we had a great dinner of canned food, played with some long camera exposures and then tucked in to bed at about 7p. Well, what else are you going to do at night, in the cold, cold desert?

Love in Joshua Tree

Visiting UCLA: January 14-17, 2008

January 17, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Pictures from the fantastic campus are up in the gallery.

I have to admit, my last trip to LA was a lot of fun, but also involved a lot of traffic and a lot of freeways. I can’t say I fell in love with the city. And I won’t say that it happened on this trip either. Though, the city did improve itself in my eyes when I got to spend a few days working at the UCLA campus. I always imagined UCLA being a huge city school, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles – which was never pretty in my mind. And the school is huge, and it’s just north of downtown LA, but it is amazingly … lovely.

Powel Library

Of course it helped that the days were sunny and warm, with highs near 70F and never a cloud in the sky. I was surprised at how much I subconsciously missed things like green grass and feeling the sun on my neck. There were flowers everywhere, and trees with green leaves or even avocados still hanging on them. And the buildings on the campus were amazing. Just covered in detail carvings, tilework, arches, porticoes, balconies and towers. You really got to check out the gallery.

My college was functional. I learned a lot, I had some fun, and I always felt safe during my four years of living in the middle of a corn field in Indiana. But if I had known UCLA was so nice, I might have reconsidered my options at the time!!


January 13, 2008 at 9:31 am

So, you know how you get new camera equipment and suddenly your whole artistic vision of photography changes? Ok, maybe you don’t, but it’s happened to me before, and I think it’s happening again. Suddenly I’m seeing subtleties in light that my old camera would never have been able to reproduce. I’m looking at my world around me and framing it in a completely different way, because my equipment allows, no, it actually encourages me to. There will be plenty of time for adventure photography and pictures of beautiful, remote and exotic locals. But for right now, I find myself fascinated with the long winter light coming through the windows and shades of our house.

Thus, I hope nobody minds a few shots here and there that aren’t my usual style. But the D80 and this little 50mm lens can do so many lovely things. Like make my laundry look so clean.



January 11, 2008 at 10:33 am

I always thought that 15 years of ballet and over 5 years of yoga and rockclimbing would give me ankles of steel. And so far it has.

But yesterday morning I was worried about my new camera not working correctly, and running around getting ready for work, and I stepped off the top of my stairs a little too far. I landed four feet down right on the side of my ankle with my foot turned under. It made a horribly loud “CRACK!” noise and I rolled around on the floor making an “OW!” face for about five minutes. Eventually I sat up and saw the swelling, so I got my anklet off as fast as I could. I then found my cell phone and called Mark.

I could hop around on it a little, but it hurt like mad. Mark said the prudent thing to do was go to the Dr’s and get it X-rayed, which we did. First lesson learned: When in pain, take pain killers before going to the hospital. Because you’re not going to get them while you’re there, well, maybe if you’re bleeding or something, but I wasn’t in that much pain, I guess.

The second lesson learned was that driving a wheelchair is a lot harder than it looks. Mark got to wheel me around in a wheelchair, which he kind of sucks at. He kept accidentally bashing my feet into furniture or backing himself into signs and equipment. Not that I’m complaining mind you, he was wonderfully sweet the whole time, and continues to do everything I need to keep me stationary.

It was a big day for “ortho” injuries as the nurses were calling us. There was another guy there who slipped on ice and had quite a swollen wrist. The worst one was the poor dude next to me who had fallen down stairs the day before and dislocated his shoulder. He hadn’t been able to get in to see his doctor until 24 hours later, so had spent that entire time with an un-located shoulder. They re-located it at his doctor’s and then sent him to the hospital for x-rays, just like the rest of us.

We were all in a big room, separated by curtains. The dr came in and told dis-located shoulder dude that he had no fractures, but should probably have a follow up with an orthopedic specialist in a couple of weeks. Then she poked her head into my curtain and said “There’s something weird about your X-rays Katherine, I’ll be back in a minute.”


She came back 20 minutes later and said I had no fractures or broken bones. Yey!! When we asked what was weird about the X-ray, she said that she and the radiologist think it was probably just something about the angle of the picture. Mark mentioned the 15 years of ballet when I was a kid, and she nodded and said “Well, that might explain it too.” Then she said something about how dancers often develop arthritis in their feet and ankles later in life, and that I should go see a doctor if I start experiencing pain or stiffness in my hips, knees, feet, or ankles. Awesome. I bet all of the crack jamming in Vedauwoo isn’t helping either.

I suppose she meant “if you experience pain in a few years”, because right now I am experiencing a lot of pain and stiffness in this ankle. But the swelling has decreased dramatically and I’m hoping I’ll be back to normal in a week for our trip to Joshua Tree. Hopefully.