With its wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and sparkling, emerald panoramas, Mt. Diablo State Park is an East Bay must-see for any visitor, but it's also a popular destination for climbers. Jonathan and I have climbed there multiple times over the years. The photo at left shows me atop the Lower Tier at Boy Scout Rocks, preparing to rappel down Amazing Face (5.10a). Over my right shoulder you can see a formation aptly named Butt Rock

This seems like a good time to mention that, if you're going to be a climber, you'll need to develop both tough fingers and thick skin. Butt Rock, Butt Crack, and Butt Hole are fairly innocuous as route names go. There are many far more potentially "offensive" names out there. In 2010, the Swedish Climbing Federation chairman moved to ban all offensive route names in Sweden "after sport climber and historian Cordelia Hess found certain route names offensive at a crag in Gaseborg, Sweden. She told a Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, that the Nazi-themed names, such as Swastika, Himmler, Hitler and Third Reich, 'trivialize the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.'" As Meghan Ward notes in response to this story on the Alpinist blog, "By tradition, deciding route names is an honor given to those who first ascend a route. Often these names are inside jokes between climbers. For many, to legislate the naming process would take away the fun and spontaneity that leads to these names in the first place." Fair warning: If you're easily offended, climbing outdoors may be fraught with more anxiety than necessary for you.

Today I'll focus on a single Butt Rock climb we completed with some friends in April 2009.

Objective: Butt Rock, Boy Scout Rocks
Route(s): Butt Crack (5.4), Butt Face Direct (5.7), Butt Face (5.8)
Style: Top Rope
Level: Easy/Beginner
Approach: Drive up and park. Short walk.
Jonathan and I are both avid readers. Though we continue to debate who reads the better stuff, we do agree on one thing: there are few things more comfortable or nurturing than sitting together, in a coffee shop or on the couch or in bed at night, reading side by side. 

Reading dates are possibly my favorite "little thing" that we do together. Over the years, we've had our usual spots. In Livermore it was the Starbucks near our house in Springtown or Panama Red on First Street. In Dublin it was the Peet's Coffee on Tassajara. Here in Oslo it's the Ă…pent Bakeri on Inkognito Terrasse. Feet touching under the table. The rattle of porcelain. Pages turning. Jonathan's order (mocha) and my order (yummy pastry) don't change, but our books rotate on through. It's our life. Stopping to operate in tandem silence allows us to slow that life down and appreciate what we have here together. Now. Peace and freedom.


Clockwise from Top LeftCommitted: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert & Scientific American magazine; A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin & Women's Health magazine; Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder & Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein; Foundation by Isaac Asimov & Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller; The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg & The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss; Make magazine & Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
After a year's sabbatical, Jonathan and I are back on the wall. It feels good and, to keep our spirits high, I thought I'd do some retrospective chronicling of our past climbs together. LEFT: Me, topped out on Deep Dish on The Leaning Tower of Pizza.

Climbing. It's a sport we picked up together shortly after we'd begun dating in 2003. (As an aside of sorts, I highly recommend that couples just starting out take a stab at indoor climbing. Climbing requires trust, respect, sensitivity, and constant verbal communication. There is no better way to bond with one another.) For the first few years, we stuck to the plastic. Our membership at Diablo Rock Gym in Concord, California was a necessary expenditure every month. Eventually, following the organic progression of climbing, we moved outdoors. In California, that meant easy access to all types of rock almost year-round.

In May of 2009, we took a road trip down the Eastern Sierra, from the east entrance of Yosemite National Park to Joshua Tree National Park, with a pit stop of a few days in and around Bishop.

From our campsite near Big Pine, we drove an hour south to visit the famous Alabama Hills Recreation Area, backdrop for classic TV westerns (The Gene Autry Show and The Lone ranger) and blockbuster films (Iron Man and Transformers). Our car kicked up a dramatic cloud of dust as we rolled along Movie Flat Road; we clenched our jaws tight as we rattled over the washboard.

Objective: Leaning Tower of Pizza
Style: Sport Climbing
Level: Easy/Beginner
Approach: Drive up and park.
The following is a cross-post from my second blog (Feeding the Trolls). I feel strongly about this issue, and I hope that, upon reading my remarks, you will, too.

The United States of America, my home country, is stepping into a new era regarding the availability of health care. Because health care is such an enormous issue, people are bound to have trouble with individual provisions within the larger bills and debates. One of those provisions has to do with Birth Control. I capitalize Birth Control because it is, in my mind, after certain vaccines and quality-of-life-enhancing medications, THE most important health care advancement in history. But even in the U.S., where women are liberated to the point of achieving the majority of advanced degrees offered each year, there is something scary looming large around the availability of contraception: Religion.

Now, I understand that there are countries where women are still considered property, and in those places I wouldn't be at all surprised to see religious leaders refusing to allow contraception to their chattels. But when the Legislative Branch of the United States' government convenes a panel of male religious leaders to weigh in on the availability of Birth Control to American women, I am blown away. And pissed off.

So, I thought I'd write a letter to the eight male witnesses (dominating two panels of ten total witnesses) called by last Thursday:

  • The Most Reverend William E. Lori (Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, CT)
  • The Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (President, The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod)
  • C. Ben Mitchell, Ph.D. (Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy, Union University)
  • Rabbi Meir Soloveichik (Director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University)
  • Craig Mitchell, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Ethics, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  • John H. Garvey (President, The Catholic University of America)
  • Dr. William K. Thierfelder (President, Belmont Abbey College)
  • Dr. Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver (President, East Texas Baptist University)
I've been writing every day. That's what you're supposed to do when you're a writer. Everyone says so. Annie Dillard, Stephen King, Pam Houston, Lynn Freed, Michael Chabon, Flannery O'Connor. These are people I listen to. And I always thought taking that kind of intentional step in my writing would be like practicing yoga or something, that it would lead me to a state of bliss. In such a state, I would no longer avoid the big, emotional, core issues at the heart of all good writing. In such a state, I would stop writing elaborately and learn how to cut the "scrollwork and ornament" out of my pieces, the way Hemingway says I should. After a while, those things would become second nature, ingrained in my consciousness and my muscle memory. In such a state, I would no longer shirk my responsibility, but just sit down at my desk and write.

As it turns out, I was wrong.

I've been writing every day, but over the last few weeks I've learned it is possible do that while still managing to avoid writing what I'm supposed to write.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I now offer into self-prosecutorial evidence exhibits A, B, and C:

A) As I move forward with this whole writing thing, it's becoming more and more necessary for me to put my credentials somewhere that is easy for editors and publishers to find, so last month we launched my personal website. Lots of content. Lots of design. We had fun! But it did take time.

On Saturday we venture to Geilo. It is a city I know little of, save that it is one stop along a famed railway line between Oslo and Bergen, and that it holds an annual Ice Music Festival each February. Our trip will coincide with this festival, a happy coincidence. The temperatures in Geilo are predicted to be lower than anything I've felt yet in my lifetime: -20 to -30 Celsius. I imagine it will be the kind of cold that will make my eyes ache. 

If we can summon the spirit, we will head outdoors to ski. At any rate we will lug our equipment along. It is to be a true vacation, so neither of us will mind if we end up in our room most of the time. 

We also plan to attend the Ice Music Festival and listen to a concert played forth on instruments of ice. It is something I never would have thought up on my own. After nine months in Norway (a full year for Jonathan) some things are still entirely alien to us. 

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