Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas in Orange County

We arrived in Orange County on Friday, December 18th. The drive from Vegas took about four hours and was pretty mundane, except for a thick and beautiful barrel cactus landscape in a mountain pass about halfway to the coast. Mike and Liz Plumb (Pam's brother and sister-in-law) live in Orange County's gorgeous Newport Coast and we were shocked at the warmth when we stepped out of the car - it was easily in the 70s. The plan was to spend the afternoon at Disneyland and we wasted no time dropping off our bags, getting reacquainted and hitting the road for the park. It was the last Friday of school before Christmas and the park was seriously busy, but Mike and Liz did an amazing job of negotiating the crowded Disney landscape. They took turns waiting in line so we could go from ride to ride with minimal downtime, and they used their mobile phones to do on-the-fly logistical planning - it was impressive. I have no doubt that if we'd been there on our own, we wouldn't have tried half as many rides.

I think the highlights for Elise were the Christmas parade and a submarine adventure. The parade had life-size characters from some of her favourite books (Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, etc) and she waved vigorously as they glided by, looking a bit stunned to see them in real life. The submarine dove into a large pool and there were replicas of ships, divers and fish with very lifelike sounds and motions. We know Elise is obsessed with underwater life and she kept asking me if things were "real" (the answer, unfortunately, was no). The highlight for me was the pitch-black roller coaster ride, Space Mountain. I'd not been on a roller coaster since I was 12 and it was quite a rush. It felt way scarier than rock climbing and I couldn't believe 8-year-old Elena braved the entire ride with both arms thrust into the air. I was hanging on for dear life with white knuckles and sweaty palms, and was relieved when it was all over! It got quite cold in the park after dark but we persevered and hung out for the fireworks at 9:30pm. As the last explosions lit up the night sky, we made our way home, thoroughly fatigued.

The next day we explored our beautiful condo near the ocean. Here's a photo of Elise touching the carp at the pond out front.

Since the day was sunny and warm, so we spent the morning at Laguna Beach with Mike and his kids. We had a great breakfast on an outdoor terrace above the beach and watched dolphins cruise up and down the shoreline. After breakfast, the kids played at a beach-side park before going swimming and shell collecting on a small peninsula. The coastline was beautiful and it was a spectacular, warm, sun-filled day. Elise thoroughly enjoyed playing with her three cousins at the beach and in their very well-stocked playroom at home later that evening! We had a nice dinner and enjoyed their company.


The cousins (below) from right to left: A.J, Jason, Elise and Elena.

The beach...

Pam's brother, Mike, with the kids.

Sunset over Catalina island.

On Monday, we decided to take a day and tour Joshua Tree National Park. It's a world famous climbing area with over 3000 routes, and is also a spectacular (and very large) desert preserve. Our day dawned cloudy, but we pushed on anyway, leaving the apartment at 7:00am. The park was a 2-hour drive from Newport Coast and we stopped on the way for pancakes (Elise's favourite breakfast, of course). Luckily, the winds were relatively calm because J-Tree has a reputation for ferocious gusts, especially in winter. We checked in at the visitors centre, got some park information and purchased our souvenir - a bag of Joshua tree seeds that Elise can plant when we get home to Squamish. We toured the park and I did a climb that I'd been keen on for awhile, a famous finger crack called Equinox. It was cold, but I persevered and managed to climb it successfully, although I tore a few holes in my fingers in the process. The rock in Joshua Tree is granite, but laced with jagged, pea-sized crystals that can slice your skin to shreds in seconds - climbers beware. Regardless, the desert landscape was starkly beautiful, and we hiked through bizarre corridors of rock surrounded by forests of Joshua Trees. We saw one specimen that was 40 feet high, which translates to approximately 500 years old! We toured a Cholla cactus "garden" and finished the day by watching a blood-red sunset over the desert. A long drive got us home just in time to have dinner with Pam's parents, Ron and Sharon - a nice way to end an eventful day.

Christmas is coming and the kids are bursting with excitement. We plan to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Mike and Liz's place and it should be a crazy time! There will be lots of presents, lots of good food and lots of excitement.

Merry Christmas everyone. We hope you are all happy and enjoying the holidays, wherever you are!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Goodbye, Las Vegas...

Our pre-Christmas week in Las Vegas has come to an end. We enjoyed beautiful sunny weather (apart from the first day) and had a great time climbing in Red Rocks. Grandma Bourdon and her sister Anne visited for three days and we enjoyed having the company. Since they spent the day doing activities with Elise, we revelled in being "child free" and were able to go climbing with much lighter backpacks! Since our friend Jeff was visiting as well, we climbed as a threesome and had a few glorious days out. We all did some good climbs and Jeff and I climbed a 1500 foot route on Rainbow Mountain, Solar Slab, on our final day. I couldn't believe we were multipitch rock climbing in light pants and a T-shirt on December 17th! It was a pleasant way to finish a nice week.

Jeff at the Panty wall.

Pam on a 5.10c in the Black Corridor.

Climber in the Black Corridor.

On the huge terrace halfway up Solar Slab on Rainbow Mountain.

Jeff climbing the first pitch off the terrace on Solar Slab.

Elise didn't get to climb in Red Rocks, but she did enjoy the desert environment - we went on a cactus adventure to see how many we could find and identify. She touched some new growth at the base of a prickly pear and got many thread-like spines in her fingers. It was nothing serious - but the spines were a little painful and tedious to remove. She also enjoyed swinging on the rope and "fishing" in the puddles leftover from the rain. With Grandma B and Anne, she visited the MGM Grand and saw the lions! She also enjoyed eating at the funky Rainforest Grill, visiting the Las Vegas Childrens Museum and checking out Circus Circus where she won a stuffed green starfish and a Nemo!

Rock formations above the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. If you look very closely, you can see Jeff in the Red Rock near the peak.

Elise beside a great Prickly Pear cactus.

Beside a Barrel cactus.

Fishing by the Stratocaster wall.

Other than the climbing, we just enjoyed relaxing in our apartment and visiting with friends and family. There was a small pool and hot tub on the roof of the tower, so Elise and I spent cold evenings soaking and "swimming" in the hot tub. Grandma B joined us a couple of times and Elise really enjoyed showing off her "swimming" skills. In fact, she introduced herself to strangers in the hot tub one evening with, "Hi, my name is Elise, and I'm a really good swimmer". It was fun being up there, especially since we could see the lights of Vegas and watch helicopters circling overhead.

We spent the last night visiting with our friends Rich and Senja from Vancouver who were on an extended winter climbing trip down south. We socialized in the apartment, drank wine and ate lots of cake well into the eveing. It was a nice way to finish a nice week.

On to Los Angeles!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Viva Las Vegas!

On Friday, we left Squamish for our holiday trip down south. We drove to Bellingham, Washington without any problems to catch a flight to Las Vegas. We hadn't flown out of Bellingham before, but it's a nice little airport and our departure was problem-free. We arrived in Las Vegas around 8:30 pm, picked up our rental car and promptly got mired in Friday night gridlock traffic on the strip, trying to find our hotel. After some wrong turns and more heinous traffic, we finally got back on track and found the building and got checked in to our very comfortable 2-bedroom apartment. Phew.

The next morning looked marginally acceptable from our window in Vegas, but as we drove west toward Red Rocks for a day of climbing, conditions quickly deteriorated. First, the road showed sings of overnight precipitation, next we saw snow on the low-lying hills and finally we ran into a snow squall on the way to the park entrance. When we pulled up to the booth, we were informed the road to the cliffs was closed for snow plowing! Our sunny winter desert climbing experience was not getting off to a good start. We killed some time in the new visitors center and the road opened at 11:00 am. We headed onto the 12-mile loop road and saw miles and miles of wet cliffs. Elise was thrilled, though. She's loved the way the Joshua Trees looked with snow on them and kept telling us so. After some exploration and discussion with a few dedicated local climbers, we managed to find a few dry routes and actually carved a day out of the situation, but it was a cold one and took it's toll. The giant bathtub in the condo was a welcome relief upon our return!

Sunday dawned sunny and bright. It was like we were on another planet after the hideous weather of day one. After a slow morning, we went on a desert hiking adventure that was recommended by our friend Casey Green from Penticton. The target hike was about 4 miles south of the Hoover dam, and we allocated one hour for the drive thinking Sunday would be smooth sailing (no construction). How wrong we were! When we were about 4 miles from the dam, we hit stop-and-go traffic that didn't let up until the far side. We spent about 40 minutes in this log jam, which threw off our time estimates for the remainder of the day. Regardless, we persevered and found the trail head.

The hike was called White Rock Canyon to Arizona Hot Springs. We hiked down a wash and entered a slot canyon that twisted and turned for 2 miles to the Colorado River. The canyon walls were hundreds of feet high in places and the slot often narrowed to 20 feet. Once at the river, we hiked south along the scenic shoreline to a second, narrower slot canyon and headed back uphill to find the hot spring. Unfortunately, a critical ladder necessary to bypass a 20 foot insurmountable cliff had been removed and we had to turn back before reaching the upper pools. Luckily, there was a small pool below this impasse and Elise was still able to enjoy herself - she was very much looking forward to going in the hot pools! After a quick dip, we turned around and retraced our steps back to the car. The hike back up the canyon was exhausting with Elise on our backs, especially since the ground was loose gravel and sand the entire way - not ideal for traction. Regardless, we were treated to a beautiful desert sunset and only managed to get lost once on the drive back to Vegas.

The forecast for the rest of our stay looks much nicer. Grandma Bourdon arrives tomorrow for a few days (as does our friend Jeff from Vancouver) and then we are off to L.A. for a second week to visit the entire Plumb family.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kalymnos - The Final Chapter

Our time in Kalymnos is coming to a close. We’ve got just under one week left before we start our arduous journey home. We leave by ferry on the evening of December 30th and travel to the island of Kos where we’ll board a plane for Athens. Early the next morning (6:00am!) we board a flight to Amsterdam where we have an 8-hour layover. We plan to take the train into the city centre and wander, which Elise is very excited about, especially since we’ve promised her a lunch of Dutch pancakes! That afternoon, we board a 9.5-hour direct flight to Vancouver and arrive home in the mid evening…phew!

Here is Elise playing on our deck with her Polly Pockets and plastic sharks. She likes to make “tide pools” by putting her shells inside a bucket of water.

These are a couple photos of the castle ruin above the village of Hora. This was the ancient capital of Kalymnos due to its strategic position above the cliffs. I guess the port town of Pothia (now the largest city) would be a much more vulnerable position for attack.

The last 2-3 weeks here have been superb. The weather is absolutely perfect for climbing (clear, breezy and cool). Here is a photo of an Australian girl on a route called Gaia at Odyssey cliff.

This is Pam on a route at Arhi cliff. The interesting rock (limestone) is visible in the background.

We’ve still managed to swim on the warmer days. In fact, yesterday was very warm – warm enough for Elise and I to spend 15 minutes in the water “snorkeling” together (i.e. wading with our faces in the water). We saw a lot of interesting fish, and when I flipped over large rocks, all kinds of crazy sea creatures burst out (black urchins, stringy starfish and bizarre slug-like centipedes). In the deeper water, I cradle Elise so she floats on her belly and can look at what’s below. She loves it, but gets cold really fast. Her entire body starts to shake, but she doesn’t want to quit. I’m the one who has to pull the proverbial plug.

These are photos from inside an ancient Necropolis above the beach. I guess this is some kind of tomb, and they are scattered throughout the island.

The evenings here get longer and longer with the wintery darkness and lack of other climbers to socialize with. We go for walks, play games and Elise does lot of drawings (a favourite pastime). I brought a copy of an old favourite movie of ours, the Big Blue, since it’s partially based in Greece. One evening Elise asked if she could watch some, so we let her and it turned out to be a big hit! The movie is a romantic drama based around the obscure sport of free diving and has many scenes with dolphins and interesting sea creatures. (There are also a lot of great on-location sets in Greece). Elise really enjoyed the novelty of watching a film with us and we finished it in two evenings flat. We’re now onto our fourth (yes, fourth) viewing of the same movie and she knows all the characters and sequence of events by heart. There are a few underwater deaths in the movie (nothing morbid) and that took a bit of explaining. She seemed satisfied with the idea that the men in question had gone down to the bottom of the sea to “live with the mermaids”. If you haven’t seen the Big Blue, check it out. The landscapes in the Greek islands are very similar to what we see around here.

Elise continues to climb up a storm! She did three different climbs yesterday, including her trickiest yet. The intimidation is gone, and now the only hurdle seems to be getting her to concentrate on what she’s doing (she’s easily distracted) and actually try some different climbs. We’ve watched her get great satisfaction out of mastering one climb in particular, Eumeo (see all the photos below of her going up and down). Since she’s working on learning her alphabet and sounds, we combine this with her climbing. At the base of each route in Greece, the name of the climb is painted on the rock, so we identify each letter together and then I sound out the word for her. She knows the names of all her climbs.

Here she is basking in the after-climb glow of success (sunset at Odyssey).

Here she is eating her post-climbing treat – a full box of Smarties for getting to the top of Argo (her hardest route)!

Our studio is overrun with cats and a few have taken to coming inside and trying to sleep on our beds (we let them from time to time). This photo is of “Enna” on our bed and, yes, she only has one eye, poor thing.

Here is a photo of Leo (the dominant male) and one of his progeny, Squirt, relaxing outside our room.

Elise is thrilled with the cats and told us she will miss them when we leave. The only downside is one cat in particular has taken to jumping into our window at 6:30 am (first light) and meowing loudly. Typical cat! We thought we’d left that aggravation behind when we left Squamish. This is a photo of the culprit, Bella.

After visiting the archeological museum, I decided I just had to see the cave that produced remains from the Bronze Age. Well, we found it one evening, but it was a bit of an adventure. The cave was in an obscure spot on the coast and, like most sites on Kalymnos, had no map or well-defined trail to help visitors navigate. I traversed along the rocks above the water while Pam and Elise stayed up high on the ridge. It started to get dark, we got separated and Elise got scared when Pam started yelling over the cliffs for me in concern. Elise started crying and said, “But, I love my dad. I love taking baths with my dad”. She was quite upset when I rejoined them on the ridge. All ended well…

This is the cave. It would not be a very nice nice place to dwell, but is very close to the sea.

A few evenings ago Elise and I went for a drive to the highest “pass” on the island where we visited a newly constructed church. The family that built it was there and welcomed us inside. Apparently, they built it as a memorial to their son, who was killed in a motorcycle accident at this remote spot, high on the island. They were expecting a visit from some local priests (the first time) and fed us Greek pastries. Elise and I took pictures and sat on the ridge and watched the sunset together (it was cold). I let Elise take some pictures of the sun with my camera, which delighted her because normally she is absolutely NOT allowed to touch my camera. She wants to take more…

We’re following the flooding in western B.C. and are not relishing the thought of returning to the wintery and wet weather. However, it will be nice to be in our own surroundings and to re-connect with friends and family. We hope you are all doing well and look forward to catching up soon.