Sunday, 31 August 2014

Minnesota and Blue Mounds

Fred and Sharon's two cats, Rosebud and Bud

We’ve had our last day at Fred and Sharon’s and now we’re on our way to South Dakota and the rest of our American adventure.

It was a sad parting for us all as we’ve had such a fabulous time, not only with the things we’ve done, but just the chatting and continual laughing. It’s a long way from when we first met Fred and Roger four years ago in Kathmandu, Nepal, as we prepared for our trip to attempt 6500m Mera Peak. We hit it off straight away, but about four days into the trek Fred had a fall, broke three ribs and had to be helicoptered out. That was the last time we saw him, but we kept in touch and we’re really glad we did as from the moment we arrived and met Sharon it was as though we had known one another for years.

Mmm! Seen at a stall in Minnesota State Fair
Jackie and Fred queuing for a corn dog
They live in a very nice house in a very nice neighbourhood and are the most generous and friendly people you could wish to meet. They’ve travelled a huge amount and Fred’s knowledge of US flora and fauna, world history, politics and Native American Indians made for some very interesting conversations and, of course he is a lover of vintage British sports cars, so it’s never a dull moment!
For our last day we were joined by Sharon’s nephew Christopher, who flew in from North Carolina for the weekend and, on Friday we all set off for the Minnesota State Fair, across the Mississippi river in the twin city of St Paul. 

Interesting things these corn dogs!
Not exactly perfect weather, we got on the Park and Ride double decker bus (the only double deck bus they have and one people wait specially for) and watched the rain come down through misted bus windows, not light rain, pretty heavy stuff that made us think we may just stop on the bus and go back again! Thank heavens we took an umbrella. Christopher and Sharon we’re going to see a well-known US comedian (I’ve forgotten his name), but we had a couple of hours together to wander round the various exhibits, outside once the rain stopped. Corn dogs, English fish and chips (chips in the US means crisps, chips are French Fries, except when it comes to fish and chips where it’s understood chips means French Fries – confused?), cheese curds, chocolate malt, all stuff we had to try.

The 'Birthing Barn' had a certain attraction for Jackie (actually all of us!)
Little piglets are so cute, it's a pity they grow up as pigs!
We got back to the park and ride after the bus ride back, it’s dark and we have to find the car. ‘No problem’ Fred said, I have a button on my key that will flash the lights and sound the horn when we’re close. ‘Is that your boot (trunk) that’s just sprung open Fred?’ Ah yes, that’ll be the key being held upside down then!

A three day old calf suckles Jackie's finger
Lovely easy morning this morning and then sad farewells as we drove off, we really hope we see them again, either in the US, in the UK if ever they visit, or maybe somewhere else in the world where we could meet up and climb something….

We’re still actually in Minnesota this evening, at a place called Luverne, very close to the South Dakota border, 3½ hours drive WSW from Minnetonka (many places including the state name have the prefix Minne, it’s the Dakota Indian word for water). We stayed here as we wanted to visit the Blue Mounds, a 100 ft high rock outcrop that, although red when close, appeared blue in colour to the early settlers in the 1860’s and 1870’s and were a prominent landmark. 
Fred, Jackie, Christopher, Sharon and Brian, just as we left
The rock is apparently Sioux quartzite and Roger had lent us a climbing guide, detailing a large quantity of climbs along the whole crag, but we decided not to do any as the rock is very slippery, having little friction, but apparently positive holds according to some climbers we spoke to. The gear was also limited and tends to pull out if fallen on, hence the reason people seemed to top-rope, but then anchors on the top are hard to find and well back from the edge, requiring lots of extra rope, that we don’t have. All in all, not for us! 

Finally got an average photo of a Red Cardinal on their bird feeder just before we left
The Blue Mounds
Walked up to the top of the cliffs as, behind a fence there’s a heard of buffalo apparently, but we didn’t see any, they were hiding. Did see some crickets, some of which didn’t hop but flew off and looked liked a moth with black wings tipped in white. Crickety-moths Jackie called then, not a bad name, but no-one seemed to know what their name was (I bet Fred would know!).

The Black Hills of Dakota tomorrow, 5½ hours drive away, better get some sleep!

Someone tell her she shouldn't be climbing on that, she won't listen to me!

The Blue Mounds. I suppose they do look a little blue from a distance

Friday, 29 August 2014

With Fred and Sharon in Minnetonka

Fred, Jackie and Sharon in Purgatory Park

Again the time has flown by, we arrived in Minnetonka (a suburb of Minneapolis) to be warmly greeted by Fred (who we knew) and Sharon (who we’d never met) into another beautiful house. They did the opposite of most people and up-sized when they retired into a lovely house on a lovely estate – Knob Hill don’t you know? We met Fred, with Roger, when we were in Nepal about 4 years ago and have kept in touch intermittently since then. Fred was meant to be part of our small party just doing Mera Peak, but sadly had a fall and had to be helicoptered out on about day four. He's been rebuilding an MGA so sending Brian pictures periodically.

A rare Monarch butterfly in Fred and Sharon's garden
Sharon, Fred and Jackie in Minneapolis
Our first day we did their daily speed walk around Purgatory Park, so called because of the hideous amount of mosquitoes (otherwise known as the State bird of Minnesota) that plagued the early settlers, not that we saw any. We were then shown the mighty Mississippi on a historic river walk which was very interesting, before being driven round some very impressive lakeside real estate. Fred and Sharon then went away overnight as Fred's school class was having a 75th birthday party, and they've had three deaths in the last couple of months so he didn't think they'd better wait another couple of years till the next official class reunion! 
The falls in Minneapolis and the lock to bypass them
a mobile pedal pub. You pedal while you drink!
So we looked after the 2 cats, Rosbud and Bud! We had our first real trip to a supermarket as we had our first opportunity to cook, and I said we'd cook for their return. It took a very long time, and none of the things I'd thought to cook were available, so it was all quite trying! Who thought smoked haddock (or equivalent) and belly pork would be so tricky?

Fred and Jackie on the deck
Refilling the remote bird feeder, accessed by a long string
The plan on their return was an early night before heading off to Lake Superior, so having driven 3 or 4 hours on Sunday and Monday, Fred then drove us 4 hours to Lake Superior! It was beautiful round the lake, but getting our heads round the fact that it was ‘only’ a lake and not the sea was really hard. The container ships didn’t help either! 

The squirrels are fairly intrepid in trying to get to the bird feeder...
This one getting as high the inverted cone

female Cardinal Bird
The aerial lift bridge at Duluth
Having stopped at Duluth to look at the aerial lift bridge and have lunch we headed off towards Silver Bay stopping for short hikes at some lovely waterfalls, before getting to our accommodation in Beaver Bay. We had a lovely evening before bed, getting up on Brian’s birthday (his 59th) and going to the lighthouse at Split Rock and a few more short hikes. Our return to Minneapolis was easy (for us – again driven by Fred) though it did involve Sharon laughing so much she spat water all over herself. I’ve never actually seen anyone do that!

Some fairly big ships go through it
The sand bank separating the lake from Duluth harbour
Brian, Jackie, Fred and Sharon
Today was a ‘normal’ day, I went to yoga with Sharon (which I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed) while the boys took the MG for a brief appointment at the garage. We were slightly surprised that the boys weren’t back after we’d prepared dinner, and then gone for a walk round the neighbourhood, stopping only to talk to the two little fawns with mum in waiting for them in the garden. Sharon then had physical therapy, and still the boys weren’t back, turns out they were about to leave the garage about 12.00 when the car just stopped! So there they stayed for the rest of the day, back just before 18.00!
Gooseberry Falls on the North Shore of Lake Superior
Sharon and Jackie deep in discussion

Lake Superior near Split Rock lighthouse
On a lookout near the lake

Sharon, Fred, Brian and Jackie
Descending the lighthouse

Split Rock lighthouse on the lake - it really doesn't look like a lake! It is considered the largest freshwater lake by surface area in the world, being shared with Canada and the third largest by volume in the world
Humming birds are pretty common in Fred and Sharon's garden

Don't know where this little chap came from though, he's been sitting on the deck outside for a couple of days now. He seems quite happy
The day I finally got a ride in Fred's 1957 MGA that he has restored over the last couple of years
Could there be any other number plate!!
A 'selfie' from the back as we drove along
At the specialist car repairers they had some fabulous cars. Look at this classic MG Magnette
Look at the original wood dashboard! I wonder if my brother Tony recognises this, he had one when he was a teenager
An old mini cooper in great condition
And one from my childhood - a Hillman Minx. My dad had one of these, great to see one again
A final 'anorak' picture, a really old MG being restored. The chap who owns this came in to see how the restoration was going. No progress since his last visit, so it probably won't be on the road this year...

Sunday, 24 August 2014

On the way to Minnetonka

A deer in Roger and Janes garden settles down to watch us

Well this is a first, writing the blog while driving (well obviously I’m not driving) so how long it might last who knows!

It was a very sad farewell to Jane and Roger, but we will be back as we have books, tent, sleeping bags, camping stove and all sorts we have to return. What Brian didn’t mention in the last entry was after our sightseeing drive/walks I’d been out with Jane to see Sarah, one of her clients (she’s a fitness instructor), as she has two cats and Jane was determined to sort me out with a cat fix! What a Sweetie, Sarah was lovely, Diva was beautiful (and knew it), though the other was a wuss, and the wine was flowing! The boys thought we were lost!

Panorama from the top of Pioneer Mountain of Estes Park. Roger and Jane's house is down there towards the left....
This is a close up, their's is the brown house right in the centre
Elk in the village
We had a couple of calmer days, Monday and Tuesday, finishing with the party on Tuesday evening. Us and two other English couples who had never met, and Jane, Roger and Bill. We had a lovely evening, lots of laughter and lots of good food, Salmon cooked out on the BBQ by Roger for those who ate it accompanied, by lots of veggie polenta with aubergine and courgette (eggplant and zucchini), couscous, veggies and salad. All felt very healthy till it was rounded off by the key lime pie brought by Sunniva (she is English, and we had the story of her name but it has now escaped me). Jane and I had great fun in the kitchen beforehand prepping and cooking. 

A male Elk outside the hospital
And two very cute deer, with very big ears!
Flatiron #1, early morning. Our route went right to the top
Fortunately the evening started and finished relatively early as Brian, Roger and I were heading off to Boulder at 04.30 the following morning to do 'Fandango', a grade 5.5, 1000’ climb on the first Flatiron. We arrived and set off up the track (trail) in the dark but it soon got light and warm. 

Dawn walk in
I did the first pitch which was quite easy, though I did manage to mess up the ropes – it’s always tricky climbing in a three, bringing two people up on two different ropes trying to keep them separate to aid the leading off of someone else, but no harm done. Roger did the next pitch, which again wasn’t too hard, we did wonder as he went behind the tree we assumed he was going to be stopping at whether we’d have enough rope, we did, but with not much to spare. Brian set off up the next pitch which had a couple of interesting moves in the middle, on the whole though Roger thought he’d picked a good line, as the protection was good, so he might go that way next time. He however had not had quite enough rope, and we’d had to move up the very easy ground to the first piece of gear while he was still climbing so as to allow him to safely set up his belay position (stance). 

Jackie on the first pitch
Jackie and Roger on the first belay, 200 ft up
My turn again, and despite having said to Brian I wasn’t going to lead again I set off – well it didn’t look far, and it wasn’t, though this was mostly because I took the direct line rather than moving up and then left! It was interesting, the weight of the gear on my harness added to the weight of two ropes really focussing my mind on the fact that I seemed to be climbing on some very shallow pockets a long way above my last piece of gear, a long way till I could get my next in. Fortunately the friction was great and the angle of the rock very friendly. 
Roger near the top of his pitch
Roger reckoned I got a 5.7 move in there (VS 4c/5a to us) which is probably as hard as I’ve led on a trad climb, it’s why I like bolted climbs – it’s harder to get lost following a row of bolts! Still I got to a notch in the summit ridge where I made myself safe and comfortable and had amazing views in both directions, feeling very pleased with myself. One more move to my left and I’d have been on a big platform, but I wasn’t to know that, though fortunately Roger did so he and Brian could go and make themselves safe and comfortable there.  “Well that was the pitch of the climb” was Brian’s comment! 

Roger and Jackie on the second stance, 400 ft up
Brian on the third belay, 600 ft up
From there we moved together, along the ridge, with Roger in the lead over the two false summits to the top where we could abseil (rappel) 92’ back to terra firma to be greeted by Kira and Bear, two lovely dogs (so we did see bear, just not A bear!) who happened to be resting after their walk up. Back to the car by 13.00 and off for icecream! What a day out, fabulous climb with amazing views. Worth the early start to avoid the heat and the risk of afternoon thunderstorms, leaving us with time to visit the various local shops to buy good things to take home to Jane. One ‘local’ shop was Costco, as we have at home, only here, at the end of every aisle there seemed to be someone offering free samples, off all sorts of things from cheese burgers to jelly (Jello). Who needs lunch?

Jackie high up on her fourth pitch, just at the tricky moves
Close up of her looking for the holds
The journey home was slow as there was lots of work going on on the washed away road from the 1000 year flood, repairing the tarmac (black top), so we got home only just before Jane who had been playing bridge (joint first, well done), in time to shower before drinks and out to a Nepali restaurant (though most of the food was Indian). The ‘hot’ chef was on, so Jane was happy, I had the same king prawn (shrimp) noodles as she did, which was absolutely yummy, with enough for our light lunch in the middle of our drive. (Must get B to leave a little more of his dinner, though he had left a smidge). 

Jackie belaying Brian up the tricky bit of the fourth pitch, 800 ft up
We made it!
Up early again (though not as early as it might have been) to start the 1000 mile drive to Fred and Sharon in Minnesota, not a bad drive to slightly over half way, to Lincoln, capital of Nebraska. Jane had warned us of the ‘nothing’, if you think this is ‘nothing’ try the Outback in Oz. It was pretty flat but there were dairy farms, and sweetcorn, potatoes and rest stops (the first book exchange we’ve seen, hurrah!) lots of signs of life. Three hours in the Outback, was nothing – no cars, houses, crops, animals, NOTHING! Here it now looks remarkably like England, gently rolling, crops, trees, that is till you get out and it’s 33 degrees! Thank goodness for AC! 

Jackie belaying Roger on as he climbs up to the final summit. It was windy, as you can see from the rope
Roger on top at the abseil point
The start wasn’t quite as early as it might have had to be, as we’d finally heard from a housesit we’d applied for. For Mum’s first few days we thought we’d head up towards Laramie/Cheyenne to see a bit of ‘Wild West’, turns out we are going to be housesitting on a ranch with cattle, horses, cats, dogs, peacocks and wild birds! We are slightly nervous! We hoped we could pop in, but that wasn’t convenient, so we will be there the day before they go away to get us much instruction as we can!
Jackie on her way up to the final summit...
She appears onto the summit with Roger
And hey give a wave back to Brian who has yet to climb
Roger prepares to abseil (rappel) down the 92 ft drop, mostly in free space
Jackie and Brian on the summit as Roger prepares to rappel down
Jackie on her abseil
And Brian on his

All safely down with the rappel line behind us
Kira and Bear, the two dogs who greeted us at the bottom

Brian, Jackie and Roger on the walk back out with Flatiron #1 behind us. Our climb went up just left of centre of the face right to the top. A fabulous day of climbing, thanks to Roger