On talus


Surprise! I did not know talus means anklebone as well; I have known it only as the english word for a large rock mass. But my first encounter with talus was way before I even knew the english language existed. It started at about Kindergarden age, when my maternal grandparents hiked with me to the Felsenmeer. The main talus slope, split up in thirds, was one of my favorite hiking destinations. Actually, it was one of the few destinations getting me excited about the Sunday afternoon walks at all. Those rocks, in relationship to my size, were huge! I still have bits of memory on scrambling up and down these boulders with Opa Georg. I vividly remember gaping into the huge chasms in between the rocks, wondering if I could ever be retrieved from them should I fall in. A slight fear of heights crept in. Talus, viewed from my 4-year old perspective, was slightly dangerous and daring rock climbing.

I don’t remember much of talus in the years I hiked with my parents in the alps. he likely cause is that we always hiked on trails. Talus did not exist.

My next encounter with talus was on my first backpacking trip ever, a 3-day loop on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. My then boyfriend Uli and I hiked down the trail to Hermit’s Rapids. Near Monument Valley, the trail crossed a few talus slopes. I was wearing the heaviest backpack ever. Not practiced in hopping talus, and unused to the shift of center of gravity due to the backpack, climbing over the talus was difficult and slow for both of us. There is a picture of me scrambling over one such talus slope. Talus was difficult.

My next encounter with talus happened about 10 years later, in Yosemite. I think it was on my first backpacking trip after Grand Canyon. The trip leader, during lunch break, taught me the english words for mountain features. This was the time when I learned the words “talus” and “scree”, and the difference between them. It took me a while to remember which is which. Let me just quickly go to my dictionary to look up if we make this same distinction in german. “Scree” ist Geroll, and “Talus” is  Geroll as well. Talus is a new concept.

It has  been only in the last 2 years that I have been hiking over talus on a regular basis. It is part of each outing with the Loma Prieta Peak Climbing Section. With or without pack, it is fun and challenging at the same time. THere is talus so big I still wonder if my adult self would ever be retrievable. The picture of Eddie being lowered head first into such a gap between talus confirmed my suspicion … There is a talus field in the Lake Stanford drainage which now and forever harbors my favorite chapstick. Recently, I sacrificed the integrity of the seat of my hiking pants to a sharp talus edge. Walking sticks are a handicap on talus.

I now revel in talus hopping. The constant attention of route finding. Where to step: finding the flat surfaces, avoiding the talus-breaking edges and rocking stones. Using the center of rocking stones. Getting faster to travel over talus. Marveling at the beautiful rock coming in so many colors and shapes. Looking up at the mountains the talus came from, wondering at the moment of the talus fall. Scrambling down, around and over talus, using my newly learned rock climbing moves. Talus is still my favorite playground.

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