Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Day in the Coulee Wrangling Rocks

Wednesday, I rode over Snoqualmie Pass, east, into increasing brightness and clarity, with friend Jena for a spot of peaceful rock climbing on a weekday, when the basalt columns at Frenchman's Coulee would not be crowded, and we could climb low fifth class rock routes in relative privacy.

Jena and me in da coulee

It's a desert gem, just over the Columbia River in the glorious terrain sculpted by ancient lava flows and scoured by continental glacier floods, named "The Channeled Scablands."  Floods of stone and water.  It is a unique and precious ecosystem, where soil, plants and animals tell the story of relentless hardship and victorious adaptation.

It's also a mecca for rock climbers, where my friend Jena has a route or two of first ascents.  Our goal for the day was simply to overcome our spring jitters and reclaim our chops for one more summer of baked rock and steep slopes.

Talk about wabi-sabi.  My rock climbing skills have fluttered away like spring petals, and to find joy again in the risk and problem solving took more than one pitch.  But I found it again on a very sweet little 5 bolt route that Jena led, I followed, cleaned and rapped off.  When we pulled the rope down, I felt pretty good.

It was a long way down.

Jena calls this "rock wrangling."

This morning I woke up a little sore in the triceps and for a sleepy hour or two, was certain today is Sunday.  (All those years before retirement, climbing meant it was Saturday.)

Lessons learned:  today is the day, let go of the past, enjoy what is before you, let nothing take your capacity for love, neither death nor disaster.

The desert is a very rich place; the longer you look, the more appears.  Keep looking!

Columnar basalt, left from a Miocene event, eroded by glacial foods.
There's beauty on scales both intimate and grand; the air is scented with sage and flowers and very clean, like food for your lungs.

Balsam root, phlox, sage and cryptogamic soil, topped with lava.

We always end a day with a short drive downhill to a view of the mighty Columbia and distant horizons.

Roll on Columbia, roll on.

Even the smallest rocks tell a powerful tale of the long life of our Earth. And just in time for Earth Day on the 22nd; many happy returns, Mom!

Vesicular basalt -- the pits were formed by escaping gases as the lava slowly cooled.  You can see that moving even one little stone affects the life of plants and animals in this place where they seek shelter to survive and reproduce.
And here are some more interesting bits.

PS:  Friends, life is on the sharp end of the rope.  So says the desert sage.


  1. I think that's awesome. We just got a couple of kayaks and can't wait for warmer weather to use them. Who says we retired people can't be active?!? Good for you! But I have to say, you certainly don't look like you've had 70 you mentioned last December. :)

  2. I keep doing the math, and it keeps coming out that way! Surprise, surprise.

  3. Wonderful pictures and post. An inspiring day.
    Need to get my arse off the studio chair and out more!

  4. Love random pits on Vesicular basalt. Thanks for videos. xo
    - Mehul
    Architectural Stone

  5. I haven't ventured to your blog in a while. But I love the varied posts of your adventures with your artwork. Wonderful to see you outside enjoying yourself!