Story by John Vonderlin
Email John: [email protected]
(Photos: Upper right, Arch Rock. At left: Shot from the clifftops about a half mile north of the Scott Beach bridge. Courtesy John Vonderlin.)
I was in a quandary, as to which, of the myriad of metaphors for lack of early success to use, to describe my second attempt to reach “Acid Beach.”
Anything worth having is worth working for,” was a contender, but since in my mind, work is being paid for doing things you don’t want to do, that metaphor didn’t seem right. After considering a handful of others, I settled on the accurately descriptive, but not future predictive,
“So Close, Yet So Far.”
(Photo: ) So Close, Yet So Far” shot from my turnaround spot, Chicken’s Roost. Courtesy John Vonderlin.)
And I was close, like a prisoner staring out at freedom from his cell’s barred window.
After a mile- and- half of beach walking, clambering over numerous algae-slickened rocks, splashing through shallow water between waves in a number of spots, losing Meg, my quest partner’s companionship, at one treacherous spot, requiring me to crush a number of barnacles and mussels while sidling along the cliff to keep from swimming, a stomach-scraping to-my-limit muscle-up from a slippery toehold onto a sheer 8 foot wall’s top, and finally hand and toe-holding my way up a 20 foot cliff to the top of a promontory projecting into deep water, I was stopped.
(Photo: That’s Meg waving good-bye at her turnback spot. I was able to clamber along the slimy cliff along the path indicated by the white dots thanks to the traction barnacles and mussels provided. Sorry guys, I know your life is tough enough as it is. Courtesy John Vonderlin.)
Oh, I probably could have inched along the slimy, narrow, littered with scree ledge under the cliff, rising above me without falling into the unknown depths of the surf waiting below. But, I wasn’t sure I could climb back up when I returned.
Staring at my route forward I was assaulted by other doubts. Could I protect my camera during a fall? Or, after landing in the steep-sided inlet roiling with surging waves? And what about the two other tough spots ahead, still between me and my destination, that I had judged the most impassable when looking at the large photo files on California Coastal Records Project website?
Would descending from the cliff I was standing on just put me between a rock and a hard spot? What if I injured myself? Meg would never get past the muscle-up spot or on top of this cliff I was vacillating on, even if she finally got worried enough when I didn’t return and managed to traverse the area that had stopped her a quarter mile back.
With the sun going down in just a couple of hours, she’d be crazy to try by the time she realized I wasn’t coming back. And while we had waited for an extraordinary low tide of minus 1.7 to attempt this, it was going to be followed by an extraordinary high tide of plus 6.9 feet at 9 that night. I envisioned myself enduring a cold, windy late November night, soaked and shivering, huddled in pain, on a narrow pile of sharp scree, at the foot of a rock-shedding cliff, just inches above the hungry-for-a-taste-of-fool surf.
On the other hand, there, clearly visible from my precarious perch was the spot identified as the rappel spot the Merry Pranksters supposedly used to reach their bacchanalian hideaway those decades ago. And, there too, just a few hundred yards further ahead, was the opening to the Warm Water Lagoon, that I had wanted photos of so badly.
I looked down at the scree-covered ledge I would have to traverse, looked at the waves surging in the inlet below me, then I looked inward and I flinched.
I regretfully validated all my fears as the reasoned thoughts of a sensible man who wants to live to fight another day. Then I salved my self-doubts and disappointment with the reeking-of-fear ointment-of-rationalization; assuring myself I was saving Meg from a possible dangerous and horrible experience, then turned tail and scurried back the way I came.
As I retraced my path, I gathered a few floats from the beach as consolation prizes. Several times my lonely footprints in the sand were the only indications of how I had descended the steep sides of the rock promontories that had blocked my way and sapped my courage on my trip northward.
Shortly, indignity was added to dishonor, when I reached the deep water spot at which Meg had turned back. I bumped a rock as I was sidling along the slippery cliff, and my floats came flying out of my improperly closed backpack. Only by jumping in the waist deep water was I able to recover them.
I had become a trifecta chimera, a chicken-hearted, jackass-brained, drowned rat.
Misery doesn’t always love company, especially when you must explain why you’re back sooner then expected and soaking wet to boot to your more cautious companion.
But, I had readied myself on my return trip. I quickly opened with a compliment for her sensibleness for stopping before having to face the obstacles even I had barely overcome. Then I recounted the details of my own unusual epiphany of rationality at my turnaround spot, and finally offered what I call the “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” gambit. Which is to say, when faced with a metaphorical wall that despite every technique you bring to bear, you cannot climb or vault over, burrow under, or knock a hole through, don’t accept defeat, but rather drift sideways and see if you can walk around it rather then conquer it.
I expressed this as: “Let’s go up to Greyhound Rock and see if we can reach Acid Beach from the north. The tide will soon be at its lowest and we can at least get some good pictures..” Thank you Robert Pirsig. You saved my ego if not my reputation again. (The Wikipedia entry for this 1974 book, said to be the most read philosophy book in history, explains why it still resonates with me over thirty years later)
Driving to the Greyhound Beach parking lot, we parked, headed down the extremely civilized bench and handrail equipped path, then southward along the beach. With the sky darkening from the sun’s sinking departure behind the progressively-thickening clouds, I was feeling a little better about my southern strategy resulting in a tactical retreat. In fact, as we took advantage of the maximum ebbing of the low tide to scramble over channels that normally block further progress southward, I started to feel confident. This just might work. But, after finding a seaweed-covered slippery rock to boost myself onto a broad expansive shelf, I minced across its slick and obviously often-under-water-surface to come to the end of the line and my hopes. An arch through a promontory of the cliff in front of me had allowed the sea to surge through a sheer-sided 15- foot deep channel, cutting a deep impassable gouge.
No way down, no way up, and no way out if I jumped.. Veni. Vidi, Vici? No! So close, yet so far.
Still, I got some nice photos of the arch, had time to climb on top of Greyhound Rock for some more, didn’t have to bother the Coast Guard, and laid the groundwork for my next effort to reach the now seeming mythic Acid Beach. I’ve had worse days. Enjoy. John Vonderlin