Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Javelinas en el silencio de Navidad

Christmas Day afternoon I spent out at Hueco once again. It was warm, sunny, and extremely quiet. The rock was warming to the touch and unyielding in its strength. At the most there were 4 other people on the mountain.


On my way off of North Mountain I heard rustling in some bushes and turned to investigate fully expecting to come across a silver fox. I was greeted with a deep grunting and two large, dark animals jumped with a start through the bushes. I froze and moved atop a small boulder to get a better look and for protection thinking maybe I had come across some wild dogs or perhaps some dogs that some unseen hikers had let off their leash. The continual grunting and spiky hair I could see through the bushes shattered that though.

It was a couple of Javelinas. Javelinas are like small wild boars. These two were the size of large German Shepherds. I moved off the small boulder I was on and into an open patch of desert to get a better look at them... and there they were. One of them grunted at me again and stomped on the ground which made me freeze once more. The only weapon I had at hand were my climbing shoes hanging from a carabiner and of course my feet for kicking. The Javelina grunting stood broadside to me looking at me sideways. After examining him for awhile I backed off slowly. The moment I moved backwards he quickly turned to face me full on and continued to stare. I slowly turned and walked away, watching him for any sign of a charge. Javelinas can be fierce like their legendary cousins from Homeric myth minus the tusks.

I have never seen Javelinas at Hueco in all the years I have been going there. It seems the conservation plan is doing a great job of not only bringing back the flora of Hueco but also creating the ecosystem that Javelinas can live in once again.

An interesting encounter with new wildlife at my home.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Afternoon at Hueco

Today I was back home at Hueco Tanks. Trying to relate what its like to go back to a home like that is hard.

The feel of the rock, the sun, the mesquite, the cactus, the octillio, the sand, the wildlife, the history, the memories.... the quiet. The awe. There is only place in this world that I would consider sacred to me and that is Hueco Tanks.

Its hard to explain to people on the East Coast the overwhelming desire to be in the open desert and amongst nature and sky. I thrive on the eco-system of the Southwestern desert. It formed me.

Natalie and I spent a few hours this afternoon doing our traditional bouldering circuit before the sun went down. It was wonderful. I'm not going to want to leave although I know I must.

We'll be climbing every other day while we are out here.

Hopefully in the next 6 months I can take some weekends to come home and climb.

I need it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hueco Tanks and Mi-17s

Flying in to El Paso yesterday afternoon we were greated with clear, bright blue skies.

We flew directly over Hueco Tanks which from the air looked so small and isolated in the middle of the desert. Natalie and I heading there right now to boulder this afternoon. Its is again warm and sunny outside without a cloud in the sky.

As we landed yesterday I saw two Mi-17s sitting at Biggs Army Airfield.

And the mountains.

Oh the mountains. It was majestic to see the Franklins as we flew in and then to wake up this morning at the base of them looming against a blue desert sky.

Its good to be home.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Snow is for the Mountains, not where you Live

It snowed all day Wednesday. Huge, fluffy, white flakes all... day... long.

Spent the day in Tyson's Corner and Alexandria and just watched the snow continue to fall.

If its going to snow there better be mountains close by to snowboard on. But no. This is the East Coast. No mountains, only tiny little hills.

Oh well, at least its wintery gorgeous around here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Honey, are those chemical weapons in the rose bushes?"

Spring Valley. A neighborhood where the average home price is $3,124,250. Home to media personalities like Ann Compton, lawyers such as Brendan Sullivan, all manner of politicians, CEO's of corporations that make more money than some nations, "elite" Washingtonians, past presidents such as George H.W. Bush and Richard Nixon , the homes of such ambassadors as those from South Korea, Spain, Qatar, Yemen, and Bahrain... and chemical weapons leftover from World War I.

During that Great War Spring Valley was used as a chemical weapons testing ground. Long before residents of the affluent and elite neighborhood provided complimentary valet parking for their house party guests the green hills and tall trees of Spring Valley were subjected to chemical munitions such as mustard gas, arsine, and lewisite.

Apparently in 1993 a building contractor digging a ditch found some 141 ordnance items... on the property of the South Korean ambassador. I'm curious as to what kind of compensation and fallout came from that. The ambassador's house and grounds are gorgeous. Since then the Army Corp of Engineers has found chemical munitions in burial pits on adjacent properties- which is what brought the whole thing to my attention.

Natalie and I drive through Spring Valley at least twice a day as it is the neighborhood right next to us and where Washington College of Law is. Past the ambassador's beautiful house, past a Spanish ambassadorial house, and past the houses that have been cordoned off with fence and plastic tarps while the Army Corps of Engineers meticulously search for more chemical warheads.

When I first past those $3 million houses they were just being fenced off. I thought they were undergoing massive renovation before winter sets in (that happens around here.) But each day as I past I would see a new sign go up warning of what to do in case of a chemical emergency, manned police cars parked outside the properties, an ambulance permanently parked in the one open driveway. Then the Army Corp of Engineer's sign went up and I noticed MPs in ACUs in the neighborhood where you normally would see black suits and Harvard T-shirts.

Obviously there hasn't been a massive release of mustard or lewisite agents from the extraction of the munitions but the possibility exists and that is a frightening prospect. The soil surrounding Spring Valley which includes American University has been highly contaminated in certain areas with arsenic forcing its removal. 140 properties in the area need their soil removed because of contamination from chemical weapons testing during World War I.

How much more would be contaminated in the present if there are more munitions yet to be unburied that release from warhead failure? Hopefully that does not happen.

An interesting occurrence and ongoing chemical weapons cleanup project in our backyard and in one of the most influential neighborhoods on the planet.

The fault in all of this lies in the marketing of the area for residential development. Was it "government cover-up?" Highly unlikely. More likely than not it was the drive of capitalism and real estate that brushed aside any (if any) concerns at the time in the past when Spring Valley became the neighborhood that it is. A forgotten munitions testing ground from a time of war long ago in the history of Washington DC.

Of course there are other questions that are begging to be asked in all of this. Concerns to analyze and "what ifs" to pose.

Above it all though is the work of those who are now and have been cleaning up the fatal danger of those forgotten weapons. As winter moves in and their work continues I hope they stay as safe and as meticulous as they have been to this point.

Today I saw a man in a full NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) suit as I drove past. A poignant accent to the very real danger in such a beautiful community.

Even in the middle of an area where lives are deemed more valuable than the majority of the population the horrors of our very own chemical weapons are a fatal reality. Not terrorists. Not extremists. Our own forgotten weapons of horror and terror meant to be used on people.

Read more about the cleanup operation here:

Sign and munition photos from the USACE website

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Saturday full of Friction & Friksn

This past Saturday we hosted the Friction Bouldering Series at Sportrock Alexandria. A very long day but a great day all around.

The youth competed in the morning starting at 10am and the adults competed in the afternoon with Open Finals starting at 7pm. Each group had 3 hours to complete as many problems as they wanted with only their top 5 scoring problems being used to tabulate their rankings. The top 5 men and top 5 women then went on to finals.

Our kids from the Junior Team climbed hard. Some competed for fun and some came to win- and most of them were able to do both. Out of the 5 youth categories Sportrock won 4 of them.

Lots of great photos were taken- here's Andre pulling hard to the left taken by Nic.

You can find more pictures of the comp on Nic's page
and Brian Chu's gallery.

The adult comp was exciting to watch. Lots of people I talk to all the time climbing the hardest and longest they ever had. Of course the top climbers busted out the hardest 5 problems in the gym within an hour and then left to get food before returning at 7 for the finals they were assured to be in.

Here's Samantha to the right stretching out her amazingly long legs and an unknown climber to the left locking it off to the top.

Sasha competed of course and ended up winning the women's open competition as she has done throughout the series. Having just turned 15 she competed the past summer at the Junior Worlds in Ecuador and ranked 3rd. In the world. At 15. She's a great climber and a good kid.

We also had Friksn Climbing at the comp. That's pronounced "friction" by the way.

Their clothing is sharp and Justin (the head of Friksn) and all the people with him were friendly... and overly generous! From the first moment I saw their designs a few weeks ago while deciding on shirts to get for the Junior Team I was hooked. Its rare that a majority of designs by one company catches my eye and all of theirs did.

Take a look at their website at the link above.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


This beautiful fall morning found Natalie and I making our way just down the street to Blacksalt for their Sunday Morning Jazz Brunch.

Blacksalt reminds me of a fusion of different restaurants I've been to across the map: The Greenery, Bloom, and The Bluewater Cafe.

Eating there this morning listening to live jazz was the most comfortable moment I've had here in DC as of yet. The mix of hardwood chairs, giant skylight over the bar, and delicious brunch gave the experience an overwhelming sense of familiarity... a remembrance of Sunday mornings spent at The Greenery.

Both our dishes were worthy of note- Nat had the Three Egg Omelet with Blue Crab, Local Squash, and Aged Gouda while I had Louisiana Poached Eggs with Crawfish, Tasso, Cornbread, and Cayenne Hollandaise. We also ordered pumpkin muffins which were perfect for the fall morning but could have been sweeter.

Highly recommend a Blacksalt brunch sometime.