Adventuring - Climbing High ... and Diving Deep
Hanging out on the first ascent of the Happy Hooker, Tahquitz
Rock, Riverside, California, July 1994. This route follows nearly
direct center of the upper buldge on the west face of Tahquitz
and was rated 5.10, A4- by Bob Gaines who led and placed the
route. Bob's account in his climbing guide describes the Hooker
as an "exhilarating excursion" and "as 'big wall' as Tahquitz
gets". Nested between the Vampire and Stairway to Heaven, the
Happy Hooker has had only one unsuccessful attempt as of 2002
according to Bob. Probably owing to a long line of scary hook
moves. For those wishing to push the envelope , Bob mentions
the climb as "one of Tahquitz's last great remaining free climbing
Interested in learning to climb or need an excellent guide ?-
website for the best instruction and guided climbing in Southern
I've been SCUBA diving since I was 15 years old,
and loved the ocean and diving so much I decided
to pursue a career in ocean sciences. So I began a
part-time education at California State University to
earn a degree in Ocean Engineering while working
as a designer at US Divers in Santa Ana, California.
The Ocean Engineering program was offered under
the Mechanical Engineering Department and led by
Dr. Leo Perez y Perez.
While at US Divers I worked the first several years
on sport and commercial diving equipment and had
the opportunity to spend some time training in
industry workshops offered at the Commercial
Diving Center in Wilmington, California. The
workshops allowed me to learn more about the
commercial diving industry. At the time US Divers
still operated its Commercial Dive Division which
marketed products such as the Comm-Hat, Kirby
Morgan Band Mask, underwater communications
and underwater TV systems. The workhops at the
CDC provided an introductory hands-on experience
with various diving rigs including the incredible 1
atmosphere 'Jim' suit, Kirby Morgan and Jack
Brown outfits, together with Yokohama hard hat rigs
like the one shown on the right. Here the tender
prepares the collar of my dive suit for helmet
attachment and a dip into one of CDC's training
tanks. In other workshops I had attended I had the
opportunity to experience a 150 foot dive in the
recompression chamber and dive the 1 ATM Jim
Suit, number 9. Number 9 had just arrived at the
CDC after previously been used during Dr. Sylvia
Earle's record dive off Hawaii.
|A Big Fish Story ...
by Mike Borrello
Working at US Divers was most of the time fun, but as with most fun jobs the pay was meager. So what little money I
made went mostly to rent, and between rent and Friday nights out, little was left for meals. But at 20 years of age that's the
order of priority. One great benefit of working at Diver's was that diving gear and air were essentially free, and so in addition
to open water diving to test equipment, the engineering 'rookies' spent weekends and evenings diving for pleasure. I on
the other hand found diving to also serve as a means for gathering food, as the waters off Laguna Beach hosted a huge
population of tasty lobster. My favorite dive buddy at that time, Carl, aka 'slasher' was up to diving most of the time and that
did not exclude our night diving for 'bugs'. It was getting close to payday, and the cupboards were bare except for a can of
Contadina 'Sweet and Sour' sauce, a half eaten chocolate bunny left over from Easter, and two bottles of Henry Weinhard
in the fridge. The $5 bill in my pocket was all I had until payday. Most of that would go towards a burrito and coke for lunch,
and so 'sweet and sour lobster' was looking mighty good for dinner if I could find a dive buddy that night. I approached
slasher with the proposition, and being the cool dude that he was we wasted no time in filling our tanks and were out the
door come quitting time.
Slasher was a veteran diver. Having been an army sergeant with the looks of a hippy from hell, slasher, even with his long
blonde hair presented an unspoken air of authority, and all the rookies followed his lead without question. We suited up
that night above the ocean cliffs and from the rear of slasher's truck we could see out over the ocean a clear horizon as
the last shreds of sunlight disappeared; there was no chance of fog. Even so, I always carried a wrist compass not only to
get me out of trouble if the fog set in, but also on this night to locate the special reef that I had discovered on a prior dive
that month. At this time of the year the currents carried away enough sediment from around the base of this reef to expose
the entrance to an underwater grotto just large enough to squeeze into by removing your tank. And this grotto was bug city.
I remember the first time the beam of my dive light shone into that hole and the myriad of little red eyes peering back at
me, all huddling back to one side as if they sensed we were coming for them. That day of discovery I had taken care to
surface and prepare bearings on landmarks that would be even visible at night. This particular night it was very dark, there
was no moon, but the silhouette of the landmarks I had chosen would be visible, backlit by the lights of the town.
I finished zipping the upper part of my wetsuit, and was ready to 'tank up', but impatiently waited for slasher. Slasher's
history of diving was written into his wetsuit. Tattered shreds of nylon dangled from the multicolor suit of patchwork and
parts rummaged from the dive locker. After so frequent diving, my suit also was taking a similar appearance. We helped
each other in donning our tanks, checked our air supplies, and slasher grabbed his last and according to him essential
piece of gear, a slinged trident pole spear. Slasher always carried this spear even when we were not out for fish. In
lobstering I had perfected a technique that always seemed to work if you could get close enough to the lobster. The
technique involved 'mesmerizing' the lobster with the dive light. The lobster would always face into the light, but if you tried
to grasp the lobster at the same time from the front, it would sense the motion with it's long antennae and quickly retreat
away from the diver. So after some experimentation I learned with the dive light in one hand to rotate the lobster around to
the point I could nearly grab the lobster from behind with the other hand. After having a tight grip on the lobster, I could then
allow the dive light to fall, caught by the lanyard on my wrist, and use both hands to force the lobster into my goodie bag.
After explaining my technique to slasher he simply replied “ shoot em in the face ... shoot em right between the
eyes “. I suppose that would also be effective, but even though I was not concerned too much about regulations
that prohibited spearing of lobster, I was about damaging the goods, and that night's dinner. So after climbing down the
staircase to the cove, we hit the surf, spit into our mask faceplates and side by side backed into the waves.
It was always a relief to hit the water since by that time not only had the weight of the tank and weight belt become tiring,
but also the temperature in the wetsuit became almost unbearable. Still the water temp made it just too cold to dive
without it. I had dived this bay at least 50 times before and so I lead slasher out on the surface, B.C.'s inflated beyond the
exposed rocky reef and towards the general area of our planned descent. Even swimming on my back I could tell we were
getting close; the sounds of barking seals soon became more prominent than the breaking surf. I bobbed vertically and
shouted to Slasher. He stopped and we paused to gather our whereabouts. Until now our lights had been off. I briefly
turned my light on and then off to energize the luminescent markings of my compass pointer and bezel. The palm
growing from the upper cliffs in the distance to my right was plainly visible. I took a reading then rotated to my left looking
for the rocky prominence that jutted vertically from the cliff left of the cove. This was harder to see, but after my eyes
became more accustomed, I knew it was in my sights. I motioned slasher to swim a bit more northwest of our present
position. We slowly kicked to conserve our energy, and after a few iterations of sighting, I felt we were ready to descend.
We were in about 40 ft. of water. I asked slasher if he was ready, and in the few seconds it took to dump our B.C.'s and
place the regulators in our mouths we were on our way.
I believe I turned my light on first shining down looking for the bottom. Expecting to see the rocky reef beneath me, I could
tell we were rather over the sandy bottom that ran beside the reef. It was fairly easy to orient direction while on this sandy
bottom according to the ripples in the sand, stirred by the almost imperceptible wave motion at this depth, but
nevertheless there. I signaled to slasher that I was taking a bearing by pointing to my compass, and rotating I set a
course that should take us to the reef. And so it did. In less than a minute, the darkness of the reef became apparent. I
paused for a moment and turned my light off. Slasher, realizing what I was doing soon followed by turning his light out
and after a very short time it became apparent that the dark night had a treat in store for us. The bioluminescent
organisms that thrived on the surface and fringes of the reef lit up its outline like a miniature underwater city. Besides the
sound of our bubbles and my heartbeat I could hear the crackling sounds and occasional 'snaps' the reef emanated. We
took in the splendor of this fine display for a good five minutes, but then decided to move on and complete the task
before us; we turned our lights back on. Still on my compass bearing I led us further into the reef. We soon came upon
the wide prominent gully that leads to the grotto.
No longer needing a compass bearing we followed the gully leading west. Still in 45 ft. of water, our air supply was
holding well. We were diving 3000 psi 80 cu.ft. aluminum tanks that we personally topped off to 3300 psi giving us
maximal bottom time. Following the gully was always interesting. It was clear that during storms this gully was subject to
some rather fast currents as the bottom was littered with large grade sediment and debris, and except for the most
hardy bryozoans and algae, the walls were nearly wiped clean. It seemed the gully also attracted lost dive gear for here I
had found two goodie bags and a spear gun. To my right we came upon a vertical crack about maybe less than 1 foot
wide, and not paying particular attention my peripheral vision picked up a reddish-lavender hue that contrasted against
the greenish brown colors of the gully wall, and illuminated by my light. I suppose it surprised me with fright at first since
I recollect I thought we had stumbled on another diver wearing a wetsuit of outlandish color that earlier that day had
managed to become trapped and drowned in the crack. Diving at night sometimes leads to extremes of the
imagination. But as I moved closer to the unfortunate victim, it quickly became apparent that this was no corpse.
Fitting almost perfectly within the crack was the largest male sheepshead I have ever seen. This magnificent fish had
taken refuge in this crack and was either dead or asleep. I thought to myself “do fish really sleep”? He
did not seem alerted at all to my presence. I suddenly realized that slasher had continued on down the gully not noticing
my find, and so I swam quickly to bring him back, however being careful not to disturb the fish. When slasher came upon
him I could see his eyes nearly pop out. He too knew this was an extraordinary fish. We shone both of our lights in the
crack but the fish did not respond. Wonderful colors reflected off the fish from our lights. After closer inspection I decided
the fish was not stuck and it appeared to be asleep not dead. There seemed to be water flowing through its gills. The
fish was situated tail fin down, pointing vertically in the crack, belly out but slightly twisted because we could directly view
one of its eyes. The eyes on this creature were huge - nearly the size of silver dollars. And the mouth, which could easily
accommodate the size of my fist, gaped open and revealed the dog like but blunt canine teeth that this fish is well
From what I have read they use these teeth to break apart sea urchins for food. I recalled years back having chummed
fish in a neighboring cove with sea urchins I had broken apart with my knife. In doing so I would pile a dozen or so in a
reef pocket near a wall that I could easily hide behind. After breaking up all the urchins, I would retreat behind the wall,
breathe slowly and wait, observing what creatures would come in for the feast - hoping to attract a shark or two. Usually
the Garibaldi’s were first in, then bass and other common fish on the reef. But then in the distance just on the
fringe of the visibility limits I could barely make out the outline of a large fish. At first I thought it was a shark, but after
watching awhile it was clear that the outline was a male sheepshead. Interested, yet cautious enough not to get too
close. I suppose a fish that has grown that size has a keen sense of self survival.
The sheepshead that was before us this night sleeping in the crack was on the same scale as the one that had lurked
outside the feeding frenzy that day. I thought to myself that maybe it was the same fish. So after relishing the view from
no more than a foot away I decided to get a bird’s eye view from the top of the crack. I swam up and over and
looked down, face to face with the fish but maybe 3 feet away. It reminded me even more of a dog from this view, but the
colorations were just too bizarre to imagine on a dog. Taking in the view I realized but not before it was too late that
slasher had taken his trident and prodded the side of the fish. In what I can only figure as a fraction of a second his prod
had launched the fish out of the crack like a guided missile, and I was in its path with no time to move. I don't believe
the fish actually touched me, but on my chest I remember feeling a fast and strong shove that I believe was forced by a
pressure wave that the fish caused as it swam from the crack. With a mixture of fright and anger, I screamed through the
bite wings of my regulator mouthpiece, which underwater had a minor influence if any on slasher, who seemed to have
missed our encounter entirely. So still shaking I rejoined him in the gully below. We looked at one another, shrugged
our shoulders and moved on.
Well the anger and fear were soon dispelled that night as we raked in a huge harvest of lobster from the grotto. Still the
encounter has never been forgotten. I invited slasher to share in my culinary fixings that evening- sweet and sour
lobster ala Easter bunny, but he had hamburgers in mind. And so we said goodnight.
"You know what they say about these waters.
If the Jamaican pirates don't get you ...
It'll be the cold embrace of the sea.
And that's no lover's kiss."
....from the motion picture, 'The Deep'
"Love cannot measure itself until the hour of parting"
Caine, from the series 'Kung Fu'
"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe"
"Waves are the signature of energy in motion."
Mike Borrello (2008)
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a Lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle...
when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the
fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true
science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer
feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle."
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable
one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all
progress depends on the unreasonable man."
George Bernard Shaw
“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and
the world remains and is immortal.”