Dirt Bagging

Ever since I started rock climbing outside, I’ve been acquainted with a few dirt bag climbers. Their lives are all about climbing, eating and sleeping are their secondary concerns. Sometimes they sleep in a car which is usually their home; sometimes they hitch rides and lay their sleeping pads and bags somewhere out nowhere near a trailhead which leads to the base of a fantastic climb. I, as a girl living most of my life in a city, even though I am used to camping and all that jazz, I have never thought that I would become one of that kind.

Right after I finished instructing YBOYS Advanced Climbing Trip in Squamish BC Canada, I connected with two friends, David and Dennis, whom I first met during my Red Rock trip in spring. They were about to finish their 10-day climbing trip in Washington State and I caught the tail of the train and got to climb with them for a couple days.

The day they picked me up was their so-called rest day. Just as I remembered, David’s car is always full of goodies: sleeping essentials, camp chairs, food, stove, and of course a full cooler of beers. Also I have to mention the new upgraded surround sound speakers and an ipod full of hip-hop.

We departed from the U District of Seattle after 6 pm and arrived at the Exit 38 Climbing Area. While I thought we were about to have dinner, David urged me to get ready so that we could climb before the sunset. We fast hiked to the area called The Trestle. After I followed a few 5.9 bolted routes, it went dark so I called it a day; however, we didn’t leave until much later because David was still climbing with his headlamp. We then drove toward the next climbing area we were going to climb the next day, The Far Side of Exit 38. David parked his car at some random pull-out where we spent the night. Without a tent, the mosquitoes were pretty bad. I couldn’t decide whether I should be eaten alive by them or suffocate myself by covering my head with the sleeping bag. Luckily I woke up next morning alive only with a swollen eye lid and many tolerable bites around my shoulders and elbows.

So we headed to the cliff, planning that it was gonna be an easy day for us because we should prepare ourselves for a 23-pitch alpine bolted route called Infinite Bliss the next day. However, I still led a few routes ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 and followed a 5.10b. It was a gorgeous afternoon, so each of us one after another fell asleep. After we woke up, we started to hike down the trail, so I thought the day was over and it was indeed a mellow day. Huh, I was wrong again. Getting closer to a trail junction, David turned around and asked me whether I wanted to climb more. Well, why not?

We passed a few more cliffs and David as a local climber pointing out routes here and there. Finally he stopped in front of a 5.10a route called Ellie’s Sweet Kiss. A story about the name of the route, David later told me, was that the route setter named it after his 3-year-old daughter because he loved the route so much when he built it. Since it was a 5.10a, I got ready to belay; David then looked at me and asked “Do you want to lead this one?” I hesitated but I couldn’t resist his encouragement and the temptation of leading, so I picked up the sharp end.

The route was a bit tricky slightly after the first bolt; I paused for a few seconds and was processing hard and finally moved upward. After maybe a couple more bolts, I found myself standing at this scary tiny ledge and what was waiting for me was a short overhanging section that required much commitment. The handholds were okay but given that I am always intimidated by overhanging features, I truly did not mind more positive ones. The main problem was I could not find good enough footholds to maintain my balance during the whole sequence. I tried several small steps and backed off to the original stance. I knew that I had to come up with a sequence soon because the stance was still consuming my arm strength. I had a plan flowing through my mind: If I kept my right arm straight and threw my left foot way high, I should be able to move through the crux. But I was too scared to commit even though the bolt I just clipped was at just about my waist level.

I expressed my fear to David by saying “I am scared” for a couple times; he must be confused because I did not ask him about the beta, nor did I show intention to give up. My mind was still processing an alternative. Finally I traversed out to the left squeezing my body underneath a tiny roof, and then went up carefully step by step and came back out to the right and clipped the next bolt. I was relieved because it wasn’t easy to maintain my balance with my body curling up like a ball. I took the chance to rest a bit, shaking my arms out. The last move before the anchor was also demanding but it did not require much thinking; I just had to believe that the power residue in my arms was still enough. Just like that I onsight free led a 5.10a bolted route. I did not show much excitement perhaps because I was tired, but this route, this experience was certainly significant to me. Later David showed me how he would climbed the crux I had problem with, and it was exactly what I visualized; however at the time I didn’t have the required mental power.

We led another 5.9 after Ellie’s Sweet Kiss, but I have no recollection about the route.

That evening, we drove to the trailhead leading to Infinite Bliss. It was quiet, nobody was around but the annoying mosquito troops. We played the music to the maximum volume. We drank beer, climbed trees and danced crazily. Dennis was an awesome cook and a fantastic dancer. David couldn’t spare the poor tree and kept doing his monkey bar traverse. I must be somewhat intoxicated because I jumped up, grabbed the tree branch, trying to shake David off. Before I knew it, the tree snapped and I was laying on the ground complaining of my tail bone. Mosquitoes started their mass attack because I was immobilized. Dennis rescued me by throwing a jacket to cover my upper body. Music was still on. Twenty minutes later, I was pulled up to dance more…And it was late. We needed to get up at 2 am the next morning for an alpine start. Each of us found a place to crash. Mosquitoes were still dancing without music and I was getting overheated in a 10 degree sleeping bag. Also a dilemma, being eaten alive or having a heat exhaustion…? I started to miss the days on a glacier.

David woke us up at 2 am sharp the next morning. We hiked to the base of Infinite Bliss. It was chilly and misty. I didn’t remember seeing much about the climb or the surroundings. The first few pitches were done in the dark with headlamps, and later pitched were climbed in the fog. I was sleepy and my tail bone was still hurting. I wasn’t climbing in a good form. The rock surface was wet and we slipped everywhere. I pulled each single draw while following a 5.10c pitch. The clouds were getting thicker, the wind was picking up, the rock and our climbing shoes were soaking wet. There was no way we could make the 400 feet of free soloing pitch 15 and 16. We bailed at the top of the 14th pitch.

Back to the car; it was still early. After a gourmet stir fry, we were all napping under the trees in the bushes next to the ferns. The weather started to clear up; too bad that we were already down here, but it is part of the story being an outdoor climber. Looking back, I really don’t understand how I finished the 14 pitches and how I rapped the route. However, that is not important, the important thing was we had fun, we climbed and we made it back in one piece. Dancing, napping, sleeping anywhere that is flat, enjoying each other’s company and climbing—all of them deserves a significant part of a climbing road trip. Yes I have lived most of my life in a city, but I don’t mind being a dirt bag at all—as long as I can get mosquitoes out of the equation.

15 thoughts on “Dirt Bagging”

  1. Loved the post I’ve been in similar situations before where I felt I was the weak link compared to the others and still made the climb and was able to have a lot of fun

  2. Hello! it’s Unintentional to met here, I included the tribal-you, your journey of life is very magical, surprisingly, I was Taizhou City of Zhejiang Province. How do you come from that province, or region ?

  3. Ok, so I know that this is probably not the correct post to ask you about this, but oh well. I want to purchase a set of Merrells. Now, I personally wanted some ankle support, but the mid height ones seem to go really high and limit your movement. Any suggestions?

  4. Hello! I have a question! I want to be a dirtbag! Just like you! But I don’t know how. :((( I once sleeped in my car. Is it enough? Should I sleep three nights in a row outside without a tent, drink some beer, smoke some pot and dance? I’m confused, I really want to become a dirtbag. Please advice!!! Thank you!

  5. Hi scienceguy288,
    are you buying a pair of hiking boots or…? I am confused. for hiking boots selection, I do have a blog entry giving some advice on that topic. however, if that’s not your objective I might need some more info in order to give you some ideas.

    Hi Da Khuy,
    Reading your comment, chances are you’re already a dirt bag. Congratulations!! 🙂

  6. I suddenly hate my life and want to live yours!

    Seriously, though, you have inspired me to get off my butt a bit more and back into the trails and maybe, just maybe, some more rock-climbing.

    Also, great response to Da Khuy ;P

  7. @kevin,
    nice to see you here too. I am going to Japan in Dec for a week, but my schedule will be very tight so probably will not have a chance to climb or hike. but it’ll be nice to go back to Asia again (last time I was there was at the end of 2004…)

    hope that you find a pair of hiking boots that fit you!

    @Da Khuy,
    guess you really want to be a dirt bag.. :p
    thank you for finding the article for scienceguy288. and it’s very nice to hear you call me Xiao Po, you know Chinese is my first language. I used to sit in a cube for many years, so I understand how that feels. I still work on computer projects from time to time in order to support my outdoor dreams before I turn into a true dirt bag.

  8. @ Da Hhuy: Okay? Yes it is so impolite for somebody to ask another person to look something they wrote up and copy and paste a link. Sounds like you were just being selfish to me.

  9. Hi there Dha Khuy,

    Great insights into your adventures! Really appreciated reading them – maybe you culd do a guest post on my blog one day?! I’m cheeky I know!

    Thanks again,


  10. @Ben McKay,
    thank you for coming to my site. To verify, I know “Da Khuy” looks like an Asain name but I am in fact the blog writer of LittlePo.com. My Asian alternative is “Szu-Ting.” just fyi.

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