A couple weekends ago I hit NJC, planning to meet up with my friend Francis and his peeps. Indeed I found plenty of SD meetup folk when I arrived, but Francis was nowhere in sight. I proceeded to climb with Bob at the Boyscout Wall. I led an 8, and then we toproped 10d, 10b, 10a and 9. They were all great climbs. I flailed on the 10d, but didn't fall on the rest of them, although the 9 felt a lot harder than any 9 has a right to feel. Also I froze my butt off. Late in the day we headed over to Raven, where, lo and behold, Francis was. He put me on a toprope on Candy-O, which I had foolishly said looked cool during our previous visit. I found a way to bypass the lower crux (going left), and fought out the top crux. After half a dozen falls I made it to the chains! That's pretty good, given that I've never even been on a 11b climb in the past.
It's incredible ... the gaps that sometimes gape open in this blog really make me think.
The last month has been a whirlwind of activity, as I moved from San Diego, land of awesome granite, to Santa Barbara, land of shitty sandstone. I haven't had a chance to climb in 3 weeks, and I'm sure it will show immediately when I next try to climb. Santa Barbara has three, but really two, climbing walls. There's the one at the Rec Cen at UCSB, which is newer. There's an outdoor wall at the Goleta Valley Athletic Club, which I fully intend to check out, since Dan has a membership there through work. Then there's one at my favorite store in town, Santa Barbara outfitters, but I've never seen a proper route set on it, ever. This third one makes me sad and I wish I could do something about it...
So the gaps I was talking about, they're not even ones in the last three weeks. I'm referring to two or three climbing trips in October and November that went altogether un-logged. First there was Halloween in JTree, with the San Diego meetup folks. Then there was the #jtreetweetup, with my new internet friends. Both were different from the sort of trip I'm used to taking, and I think both went un-logged and un-remarked largely because of that. I haven't digested them, and they feel a bit fragile and special, and I don't want to go there. So I won't. The second trip, in any case, has been "reported" on by the aforementioned friends.
In other news, I finally caved, and during last week's Metolius promotion I ordered the set of free TCUs. That gives me a fairly complete rack, except for the mega sizes. I can't wait to use them!
Today Francis, Cecilia and I made a quick jaunt out to New Jack City. Francis led before me, so all the draws were placed for me, but I led everything. We climbed in the Raven area:
Custom Tailored (5.7)
Step Across (10a)
Welcome to New Jack City (10a)
Love On-Sight (10c)
I'd led the first one a couple times before, and TRed the second. The third was new to me. The last one I took a fall on while at the second bolt. I lowered and restarted, finishing it clean. The start is a bitch! Overall a really fun day, and great start to my "leading 10 in 2010" campaign.
This Sunday Dan took some time out of his busy schedule and we went climbing. This was technically his second time climbing ever -- the first time was bouldering at Lizard's Mouth a couple months ago.
He'd picked up shoes before our last outing, and last week I'd outfitted him with a helmet and harness package. Hilariously, he was most excited about the chalk bag!
I threw the climbing gear into the back of the Porsche and we drove up Gibraltar road to West Camino Cielo and Crag Full of Dynamite. CFoD is where, just over a year ago, I'd done my very first lead, and it's an uncomplicated spot, with zero approach and routes whose top anchors you can see. However, I did not remember quite how crappy the rock was. In any case, I instructed Dan on the basics of lead and TR belaying, commands and all that good stuff, and then led "he who double-crosses me and leaves me alone, he knows nothing about Tuco, nothing", a 5.7. It was harder than I remembered, mostly because of rock quality. It seems the more experienced I get, the more perturbed I am by chossy rock. In any case, Dan jumped on it and did really really well. He had all the normal issues with not knowing how much to trust friction and how exactly to use the shoes, but he's got mad balance, and a clear head and he made it to the top. His Achilles tendons were bothering him at the end, but he totally escaped the standard beginner issue of over-gripping and pumping out. I then led up the Ecstasy of Gold, the 5.8 that's two routes to the left of Tuco, and Dan followed about half of it, with a harder start than I'd done. Pretty damnn good for a beginner.
We had a really good time. We were in the shade, and there was nobody there but us, and we took it really slow and easy. I only wish we'd taken pictures...
This month has been one of climbing-related expenses, and it's a little scary how much money has gone into this.
After much hand-wringing I decided to replace my years-old Mammut harness with a BD Chaos. I tried it out at Owen's this weekend, and it's fantastic for sport climbing, but, obviously, the real test is going to be trad multipitch.
I also decided it's time to start building a more respectable rack. Technically, I have everything I need: #1 and #2 C4 camalots, a series of 7 forged friends, a set of nuts and pink, red and brown tricams. But the forged friends are a bit ... shall we say antiquated? And until now I've been relying on Ben's gear to supplement my camalots, nuts and tricams. So it's time to replace the forged friends with something actually usable. To that end I've ordered camalot C4s in the #0.3-0.75 range. I'll need a #3 at some point, but for now I can use my largest friend for that.
Finally, I wanted to outfit Dan with rock climbing gear, so that he'd be able to belay me and follow on basic multi-pitch. So I got him a harness package and helmet. I'm super excited about teaching him!
I spent this Friday + weekend climbing at Owen's River Gorge with Ben. It was my first time back since last winter, so I was really looking forward to this visit. I've been training both endurance and strength in the gym, and climbing alongside some phenomenally stylish people, so I think my technique has improved a great deal, too. My objective this time around was to convince myself I'm a solid 5.9 sport leader, and maybe try to probe my limits on lead a little. I succeeded at the first, but not the second. Oh well, next time!
Here's my ticklist for this trip. Everything was onsight, on lead, casual, except the very last route on Sunday, which was clean on TR.
Friday: High Seas (7), Crowd Pleaser (8), Clip Jr (6), Welcome to the Gorge (9)
Saturday: Enter the dragon (8), China Doll (8), Heart of the Sun (9), Drill Sergeant (8)
Sunday: 5.8 not in my book, at Solarium between Sendero Luminoso and Menace II Society, Child of Light (9), Low Octane (9), High Octane (10d, TR)
Low and High Octane are variations on one 40-50 foot route, really, and they're a little obscure, so I want to call particular attention to them. They're at the Pit Stop area, in the Lower Gorge, at the top of a sand/scree slope. The sun never sees these problems, so they're good for hot days, and they see very little traffic. Being a no-chalk climber myself, I was especially excited to find these problems completely un-chalked, totally virginal. I led the 9, Low Octane, which is the variation on the right. It has some wonderful balance-y moves. Then we toproped the 10d, which is really a slightly longer boulder problem start, on the left. I think it's overrated as a 10d (indeed, the new edition of the guide may have re-rated it, I don't know for sure), since I wouldn't rate it more than a V2. In any case, I TRed it clean, and given that I was able to shake out at big juggy holds, I think I would have no problem leading it. So it can't be 10d. Either way, great problems, both of them, on great, un-slimed rock.
We all know by now that my big looming goal is to lead all three pitches of Igor Unchained, in the Needles, next spring. So I have to figure out how I'm going to practice my crack climbing skills in the meantime, and what else I'm going to try to accomplish this fall and winter. My friend Sam's blogpost exposed me to this great Summit Post article about the JTree Crack Climbing Workshop. It seems like a good idea to try to knock off most of the cracks up to 5.9 on that list. I've already followed a bunch, but I don't think I've led any. I'm going to also have to find a way to incorporate Mt. Woodson, which is, oh, two hours closer to home than JTree, in my crack climbing regimen.
As for indoor and sport leading goals, I think 2010 can reasonably be expected to be the "lead 5.10 in 2010" year.
In spite of the fact that an employee that was helping me called these Patagucci, I caved and bought the Patagonia Huckleberry approach shoes I've been craving forever. My 5.11 Prodigies have never been quite right, mostly because they're too wide for my foot, but, more importantly, I wanted to be able to take off my shoes on the planes to Greece, and my Prodigies stink really really badly. So Pataguccis it is. I ended up with a men's 41.5. I don't know that they are any different from the women's, but they fit me perfectly, and I especially appreciated the half-Euro size increments they're available in, because I was able to size them so precisely. So far I'm thrilled with them.
So, I've made it to Greece, and the gear appears to have made it, too, though I haven't unpacked the duffel to see if it's all intact. The weather here is insane: there are huge thunderstorms that have me seriously concerned that going up Olympus isn't going to be practical. One of the drawbacks of the Huckleberries is that they're not Gore-texed, so I have to get some waterproofing spray to put on them while they're still clean.
Last weekend was my first time climbing outside after about a month long absence. Because my left hand had been in a brace, my grip strength has significantly diminished. I tried leading a 9 in the gym about a week ago and seriously scared my belayer. It wasn't good. So last weekend was going to be the reintroduction to outside climbing and leading, and we needed an easy route to do it on. On Tahquitz, fingertrip is one of the most highly rated easy routes, so, provided there wasn't a traffic jam getting on it, we planned on jumping on that. We were going to be joined by a colleague of mine, who climbs, but hadn't done multi-pitch before.
I led the first pitch, which involves uneven cracks and a bunch of liebacking. I went really slowly at first, but by the end I was feeling fine. Ben led the next pitch, and managed to get off route from fingertrip and onto the fingertrip traverse. He made a hanging belay just before the traverse and brought us up. I led the traverse and then up to lunch ledge. Ben finished the route going right, up the 5.6 cracks, instead of the slab to the left, as we'd done to finish angels' fright. In the end, the descent was the most taxing part of the day, and my calves were burning the next day.
Sunday found us in a super lazy mood. We scoped out some boulders near where we'd crashed, and then headed up to the bouldering off Black mountain road. Ivan got in some practice on his V4 project, and we called it a day.
I finally went to the doc this morning to have my knee looked at, and figured while I was there I should have my wrist checked out, too. The knee turns out to be a muscle sprain of some sort, since all my tendons and ligaments are intact. Yay for that!
The wrist, however, is another story. This business started with me noticing I couldn't do a down dog without my left wrist hurting, in late January. So I iced it after workouts, and it got better for a while, but over the last month, as I've been leading more and more overhanging 10s in the gym, it's been getting progressively worse. Hence, I talked to the doc. They took 6 xrays, and in a couple of them it was looking like maybe the scaphoid is fractured. If that's indeed the case, since it's been over 6 months and things are only getting worse, I won't be able to avoid surgery. So to rule it out, the doc's ordered a CT, which my insurance is going to take a week or so to arrange. In the meantime, the doc insisted I be stopped from doing further damage. His exact words were "I'm going to stop you", and when I started to complain he laid down the law. So until the CT helps determine what's what, I'm in a spica brace.
Believe me when I tell you, I am pissed! I'm not sure at whom yet, but I do know that if this proves to be a break, which I somehow gave myself, missed how and when, and then ignored for 6 months, then I am going to become the focus of this anger!
This past weekend Ben and I went on a trip to Bart Dome that he'd been planning for the better part of a year. Bart Dome is in the Domelands Wilderness, in the Southern Sierra, and it's the Southern Sierra Climbers' Association "home crag". It's about 5 pitches tall and features crack, dike and slab climbs between 5.7 and 5.12. Ben had been there once or twice before and loved it, so he wanted to show it to me. In the past, he'd followed "Follow the rainbow", a 5.9, and this time he wanted to lead it (or swing leads with me, we never got to deciding on that detail, since we never climbed it).
We drove out to the trailhead, which starts at Big Meadow, midday on Friday. We were outfitted with full backpacking and climbing gear, as well as three empty gallon jugs for water. We were going to hike 2.5 miles to Manter Meadow, filter water, and hike an additional 3 miles North to Bart Dome, where there is no water.
The hike to Manter was uneventful, and indeed we found water. I started having trouble after that. About a half mile later, on flat ground, my lateral hamstring ligament (I think) started feeling rigid and painful, as if I'd overextended my knee. I had only added one gallon to the weight I was carrying (probably 40 lbs already), and Ben had taken the remaining two. A mile from our destination, we decided to stash two gallons of the water and the ropes, and come back for them the next morning. Despite the beauty of the location, the rest of the hike to Bart was excruciating to me. We made it there, made dinner, and crashed hard, under a cloudy night sky.
The next morning my knee still wasn't good, but I needed to walk on it and figure out exactly how bad it was. We hiked the mile back and returned with the ropes and additional water, and for two thirds of the way I was in agony. At that point I decided that if I climbed -- which I wasn't entirely sure I could do, in the first place -- the hike out would be epic. If I gave myself the day to rest, maybe things would be better. So we sat around in the shade and read our books, until Ben suggested that we should probably get a couple miles of the hiking out of the way, so Sunday's hike out would be easier. We packed up and headed out from Bart Dome, with no climbing done. For this hike I moved my rope to the bottom of the pack and my sleeping bag to the top, took out my orthotics (which had blistered my left arch) and hiked completely bent-kneed, all the work being done by my quads. I made it a mile completely pain free, and then got a twinge for the last half mile, but overall it was a huge improvement. We dropped our packs at a rock outcropping right on the trail, and went off in search of a mythical swimming hole at the base of the Lone Ranger rock, which, of course, was not there. We returned to our base, made dinner, and called it a clear, bright and breezy night.
The next day we loaded up and headed out, and I stuck to what had worked the day before: bent knees. This time, I decided that, since it always seemed like the twinge in my tendon congealed there after rests, I wouldn't rest for the ~4 mile hike out. So I didn't. I made lots of 20 second stops, during which I would stretch my quads, but I didn't stop until the top of the ridge, maybe half a mile short of the trailhead. Indeed, I managed the whole hike out with no pain!
We spent the rest of the day driving up to Church Dome just to check it out, and then back to SB. Now I'm sitting here fretting over whether I should see a doctor about this knee business. It all started last Monday with a pop while coming up over a roof on lead. I was reaching up over the roof, with a foothold under it, and I turned my knee funny. From what I've read, it sounds like an ACL rupture, but based on the relative lack of pain afterwards, it could not have been. Then during the trip, the whole business moved from the anterior-lateral side of my knee to the posterior-lateral side, and took on a whole other character. So did I start with a minor sprain of one thing, and, due to compensation and repetitive strain, screw up another? Or what?
This Friday and Saturday were Idyllwild climbing days. On Saturday Ben and I racked up to do Whodunit, a classic multi-pitch on Tahquitz. There is some debate as to exactly how many pitches it takes to do the climb. The guide book shows 8, and the mountainproject folks weigh in with 5. In the end it took us 6, but really 5 (you'll see why). I'll refer to the pitches as they are in the guide book, mostly because that's the only place that gives landmarks, so I'm sure what's what.
The route starts with 5.9 slab, which neither of us was up for leading first thing off the ground. We noticed that it would be easy to bypass that first pitch and the second, not terribly interesting crack pitch by climbing on broken blocks to the right of the route (properly, the start of the Swallow and the Gulp), and traversing left on a ledge to the start of the 3rd pitch of Whodunit. So we did, Ben leading that first easy pitch.
The 3rd pitch of Whodunit is the second crux: a 5.9 exit from under a roof capping a chimney. Ben led up to the start of the chimney and realized that he was running out of draws. He made a belay at the base of the chimney, so we broke the 3rd pitch into two pieces. Then he led up to the crux, where he fell on a #4 camalot placed directly under the roof. It was kind of a memorable fall, because I heard him scrabbling, a bit like a cat that jumps onto something and misses, before I felt his weight on the rope. He then aided past the crux and made it out. I followed and cleaned the pitch free, which I was very proud of. In fact, I was doubly proud because I had to do the first half, the chimney, with the camelback pack on my chest, then stop under the roof and switch it around to my back to get around the roof. And somehow I did not fall during all this.
I led the next pitch, which, in hindsight, was the 4th plus half of the 5th pitch by the book, up to a cracked roof. The freakiest part was about a quarter up the nominal 5th pitch. By then I'd climbed up an off-width (right off the belay, where I didn't have the #4, so I sent a rope down for it), traversed right to another crack, and then come to a headwall. There was a big block in front of the headwall, about human sized, and I had a small cam on one side of it. I was deciding which side of it to go in order to go up the headwall, when I realized that human-sized block was free-standing and not well lodged, at that. I almost freaked! My pro depended on it, and I was bear-hugging it when I realized there was nothing around the back, it didn't connect to the headwall. Man! That was bad. I very gingerly switched from the left to the right of the block and found a placement on the headwall, before, again very gingerly, stepping on the free standing block to gain the headwall. I climbed 20 more feet and made a hanging belay with one good and two tipped out cams under the broken roof. I was very unhappy and uncomfortable. The pitch behind me (rated 5.8) had been very emotional and the belay was exceedingly uncomfortable.
Ben had the next pitch, but it wasn't entirely clear which way to go. I suspect we were supposed to jog right to some easy ramps, but after much hesitation, Ben avoided the off-width directly in front of him, and went for some face climbing immediately left of that. He had to aid past that section, and then he continued up for a while. I followed that pitch free to a good belay.
The next pitch was mine, and I was terrified by the way it looked. I had to make it up to a roof, traverse under it and go up a headwall to its right. I went up and spent tons and tons of time contemplating the way to protect it, the way to make the moves, the way to minimize drag. In the end, I'm confident I did most of those things right, but it took me a while. I then followed a shallow crack up to yet another headwall type thing, which I had to yard on my arms to get over, and ended the pitch 10 feet below the summit, with hellish drag, but on a nice comfortable ledge. Ben came up and proceeded up to the summit, claiming those 10 feet as an additional pitch. I refuse to accept this!
We came down the slab descent, doing a post-mortem of the whole climb. It had taken us 6.5 hrs to do 6 pitches, 2 of which were half-pitches. That was woefully slow. I had done everything clean, but Ben had aided through one spot we knew to be a crux, and a second spot where we suspect we went straight when the rated route circumvented it. I was happy with my placements during the climbing, but unhappy with one of my anchors. Ben had overcome the desire to give up at least once. Overall, the climb had felt like it was teetering on the verge of being an epic, but it never became one. It wasn't done in great style, but it was done and done safely, and it was our hardest multipitch together yet. And we both agreed that were we to get on it again, we'd be able to style it in sub-1 hour per pitch no problem.
The next day we were both feeling pretty accomplished and lazy, so we went looking for the Smooth Soles wall on Suicide Rock. Once there, we lounged around a while, reading about the climbing history of Tahquitz and Suicide in the book, and then we both toproped the leftmost route, Last Dance, a beautiful 10a slab to thin fingers back to slab, and Ben toproped a 10d slab called Blown Out.
This weekend we met up with Emily and Sam at Idyllwild and climbed at Tahquitz on Saturday and Suicide Rock on Sunday.
On Saturday we got on Angel's Fright. As we were racking up at the base, a Canadian guy came by and, after chatting for a little while, we gathered he was planning to rope-solo something in the area. Sam proposed inviting him to join us instead, so Ben and I picked him up. Ben led pitches 1, 2 (the crux) and 4, while I led pitch 3. It was cold, windy and cloudy. Climbing was hard, but belaying was even worse. The pitch I led went really really slowly, even though it was ridiculously easy. I way overprotected it, I think because I felt insecure from being cold and stiff. Standing on lunch ledge and belaying Ben up to the 4th pitch was one of the most miserable moments climbing I've ever had. I was in full-body shiver mode. After descending we gave up for the day and went out for Mexican food.
On Sunday we headed to Suicide Rock. Emily, Sam and Bert (the Canadian guy who joined us) headed up some 5.6 thing, while Ben and I explored. I really really wanted to do the 5.10a starting moves of the Breeze, but I got on it and chickened out because of the dire consequences if I fell. We moved right and I led the Shadow, a 5.8R, instead. That was definitely the hardest lead I've done on gear so far (the exception being the 5.9 Baby Robbins crack, which is only 25ft tall), and a real mental challenge. The climbing was tricky, but not that difficult. But, as the R betrays, there was a real runout section, and the crux was several feet above the last pro. The only way I could manage was to mentally break the lead down into lots of small sections, and take advantage of the bomber stances in-between to rest my mind. Ben followed, and then we came down and he did a problem to the right of Shadow, while I conserved my energy to send the Breeze on toprope. I made it to the bolt without falling, which means, had I been on lead, I would have been ok. But then again, it's hard to know whether having all the extra pro on my harness would have been detrimental to my stability. Then I fell once on the crux move above the bolt. It was fun to work the hard move, and I was rewarded by an awesome easy chimney section in the second half of the route.
All in all, a successful and educational weekend. I pushed my gear grade a bit, and I learned a little about what cold does to my leading ability.
This past Sunday was "getting to know the local crag" day for me. Simone, a fantabulous and super smooth local climber, took me and my gym partner of late, Julio, to Mission Gorge to show us around. Julio had never climbed outside before, and I'd scared off his previous climbing partner when I took him outside. I, on the other hand, had been to Mission Gorge only twice before, once with Julio's previous partner and once with Ben, so I still had (have, really) a lot to learn about the Gorge. We played around the leftmost end of the main wall, always on topropes, and mostly on harder stuff than I would have elected to get on had I been on my own.
I very inelegantly groveled up Knob Job (or Nob Job, depending on which guide you look at), which I hated. Simone said it was the climb that got her hooked, so now I'm waiting to find out what kind of pervert she really is. Then we got on Rock on (the right variation in the dihedral), which is Simone's favorite. Perhaps I should not say "we", since Julio and I only managed to flail and get about two feet off the ground on this 10c. We then did Suzie's wild ride, Hangman, and Crack of dust. I would have liked to have tried Mariah, but after seeing someone even taller than me struggle on it, I think maybe it's a good thing I didn't. All in all, I'd say it was a good day, except that Rock On really munged the backs of my hands, so now I'm hurtin'.
This past weekend Ben and I were joined by Davide, a friend who was amongst the first people I started climbing with at the UCSB gym about a year ago. Davide has since moved to Antibes, France, and he's been doing a lot of limestone climbing there, so Ben and I wanted to show him some of the wonders of California granite on his visit back. Initially Davide had proposed Yosemite, but I redirected us to a less crowded place. Ben and I had been planning to get on Summer Sojourn and White Punks on Dope, so we invited Davide to join us for that. This was going to be Ben's and my first time on a longer moderate multipitch together (the previous longest having been Cat in the Hat, at 5 pitches of maximum 5.5, if I recall correctly, which we'd rocked), and we'd decided we wanted to swing leads. Thus I was slightly apprehensive about doing it with a group of three, but I knew that Davide was a stronger climber than I am, even if he didn't know how to lead on gear and had never climbed on granite or cracks in general before.
So we drove out to near the base of the Needles on Thursday night and camped in the dark, woke up the next morning and moved our campsite closer to the base of Voodoo, and figured out where the trail up to the base began. We approached with our gear only, no backpacks, knowing that we may or may not descend to the base of the climb. The approach was barely a trail, marked by occasional cairns which truly saved our asses. It took us a little under two hours, and mercifully, we were under treecover most of the time. We'd decided that Ben would lead the odd-numbered pitches, and I'd take the even ones, because 1 and 3 were supposedly the crux pitches, at 5.8. So Ben started up, trailing the second rope so Davide and I could follow more or less at the same time, with me cleaning. Our scheme went well, and we made it to the base of the second pitch with no issues.
The beginning of the second pitch is described as a "striking dihedral". That it was, and more. It was 40 or 50 feet of sheer off-width. I had said I was going to lead it, so, despite the fact that I was obviously intimidated as hell, off I went. I plugged in a #4 camalot and walked it up between knee jams. I stuck in a rigid friend a little further up and led up above it. I groveled, cursed, tried to jam my feet and slipped, but somehow held on. Nearly at the top of the dihedral, the crack gets even wider, but all of a sudden another face appears on the left, maybe 4 or 5 feet away. I traversed left onto that face for a rest. For a few minutes I -- and I suspect Ben, too -- thought I'd really screwed the pooch with that rest, and wouldn't be able to make it back into the crack, which was really the only way to continue. In the end, reversing my moves exactly got me there, and I grunted past the even wider section. From then on the climbing got easy, on two parallel, well-featured sections. The pitch was pretty long, so I had time to relax into the last section and get my flow back, before setting up my anchor and belaying the guys up, grunting, one by one this time.
Ben led the next pitch, which was a fun, but unremarkable crack. The 5.8 crux was really getting on it from under the little roof at its base. Davide and I followed up simultaneously. The fourth pitch, my lead again, was a lot more interesting. The crack we'd been following ran out 10 feet above the belay. I plugged in a #1, and led off to the left, where the beta directed me to look for a placement in a bowl-like section of slab. When I got there, already run-out, I couldn't see a placement. So I started hunting around for one on nearby sections of the slab. I finally found a placement for the golden, I think, TCU. Then I continued up and left, following a seam in the rock. The further away I got from my TCU, the more sketched I became. The climbing was not hard, but there was definitely an "are we there yet?" loop playing in my head. Once I was once again severely run-out above my gear, I started thinking really really hard about where I was putting my hands and feet. Aside from my own rope, I was also trailing Davide's, and I had clipped it into the pro to protect his traverse. The ropes had a ton of friction and were pulling me down at every step. Every move had to be calculated. I was moving so slowly and tentatively, and with so much tension because of the ropes, that I started getting pumped. So then I started worrying about shaking myself off the rock. I found a stance and stopped. There were no placements in sight. I took a minute off and continued, and found a pocket in the rock that I thought might work for a tricam placement in passive mode. So I plugged that in. It was still far from my anchors, which I could now see above me, and the slab was becoming more vertical just below them. I had visions of lunging for the anchor, going for it with one finger and breaking it off as I weighted it. So I didn't. I went up very very carefully, moving left and right off the center seam, as necessary to get the best holds. When I got to the anchor I discovered one bomber metolius bolt flanked by two sketchy rusty hangers on rivets. I built my uncomfortable hanging belay and got Davide and Ben up, one by one, because they were moving so fast on the slab. Three pieces in 150 feet!? The first within 3 feet of the anchor?! Holy shit! That is the very definition of severely run out. I am so impressed that I did not shake off the rock on that one!
The rest of the climb wasn't much to write home about. Ben's next pitch was more slab, but this time there were bolts to clip! Kiddy slab. Then I did a 70 foot lead to the worst-placed anchor I've ever seen. Then Ben finished it off with another short and trivial crack-to-slab lead, and we walked off the easy slab to the top, where the view was amazing. We'd started out at 11am and finished at 6pm sharp, for an average of 1 hour per pitch. Not bad, under the circumstances.
The descent... now that was another matter altogether. I'd been warned by the San Diego experts not to attempt to walk off Voodoo Dome, but rather to rap down a route. But the Mountainproject beta suggested walking off, so that's what we tried. We misidentified the gully we were supposed to go down (and misidentified it again later, so that we really have no idea where the proper gully is, even though I looked for it from the summit of Voodoo) and had to rap a couple times. Then it got dark, and we only had two headlamps for three people. We had to rap a whole bunch later, and finally we made it to what seemed like steep, but not rocky ground. From there we found the original trail in the dark, which was a miracle, and made it out in a whopping four hours. All told, it was a 13 hour day, with 7 hours spent climbing in the sun, and four hours descending, so I was burned, my calves were shot and we were all generally a little dehydrated and exhausted.
The next couple days were spent on Dome Rock, where it was too hot and sunny to get on any of the exposed multipitch routes. We messed about on the first pitches of a couple things on Saturday, and the amphitheater on Sunday. On Sunday afternoon we dropped Davide off at Corcoran, where he caught the train for Berkeley to attend his conference.
We learned a bunch of lessons:
* Ben should have learned to always bring a headlamp, but knowing him, he probably hasn't
* on adventure climbs, when you think you're bringing enough water, bring more -- we got this right
* we probably should have followed the beta given us by people we know rather than the website -- I was arguing for this, Ben against it, I think, given our experience, I win
* 5.7 is the scariest grade; it has no honor or sense of propriety and will trick you into all sorts of stuff -- we all agreed on that
* R in the Sierras is really R; it could mean anything from four placements in 200 feet to no placements. In my 5.6 case it meant two (excepting the one right above the anchor), the second of which was questionable
* swinging leads works really well for us. I find it psychologically helpful to decide in advance who's doing odd and who's doing even
* I can't belay two people up a 5.6 slab at the same time in guide mode. They usually move too fast
After a weekend of climbing at Echo Cliffs, then racing Sat & Sun, all while having some sort of flu, I foolishly went to the gym to work out on Monday. Not only that, I climbed with Julio in the lead cave, where I was creeping along the ceiling like a bat. So it's no surprise that I ended up with a booboo. It felt like a muscle spasm or cramp, on one side of my upper back. It didn't come on fast, like a cramp would, but rather as I cooled down I felt it congeal there. Then overnight I developed a twinge in my knee, like I'd over-extended it.
So I decided two sprained fingers, a wrist that won't go through its full range of motion, a spastic back and a twingey knee probably meant I should take the week off. In a way I think all these minor injuries are related: it started with the fingers, and I probably started favoring my other arm, exacerbating that wrist, then my handwork was weak, so I had to crank with my back more, and finally I have NO idea what happened to my knee. I've taken the week off and I've been doing very slow very deliberate yoga, which has helped tremendously, and icing things whenever it crosses my mind. Everything feels so much better now, and hopefully the antibiotics I was prescribed yesterday will clear up the bacterial sinus infection that followed the flu.
This is all in preparation for next week, when I get to climb with two -- two! at the same time! -- of my favorite people in the world: my regular partner, and Davide, a friend who sticks to the rock like a little froggy. DVD moved to France a couple months after he, Wil (my old housemate) and I got together in Feb. 2008 and decided to get serious about climbing. He's never climbed granite or cracks, so Ben and I are taking him to the Needles to do some multi-pitch crack climbing on excellent granite! I'm hoping the fingers will be well enough that I won't have to buddy-tape them, so that it's easier to place and clean gear. Ideally, I'd like to swing leads with Ben, and it'll be a lot easier if I have my full complement of five fingers on the right, instead of four. I'm so stoked!
On Friday I was in the throes of the beginning of a chest cold. Despite that, Ben and I headed out to Echo Cliffs, which is in the Santa Monica mountains near the border of the Ventura and Los Angeles counties, at the crack of noon. The weather was hot and oppressive at first, but turned breezy and nice, and eventually even sprinkled a little late in the day. The approach to the crag is about 45 minutes long, and can, but should NOT be shortened by going down a scree gully that happens to be an endangered wildflower habitat. I was having a really hard time breathing during the approach, and was feeling very weird when we got to the crag, but we still got 3 5.8-5.9 climbs in before totally losing motivation and resorting to just lounging around. We went to the Grotto area, which is down by the creek, and really enjoyed both the location and the quality of the rock. We're looking forward to returning to try our luck on some of the 5.10 sport climbs in that area.
On Saturday I got together with the San Diego Climbers meetup buddies that I usually climb with indoors, and we headed out to New Jack City, a sport climbing field just North of Barstow. The current issue of Ice & Rock (which, by the way, I've really enjoyed) has an article about Owen's River Gorge in which it calls New Jack City a "chosspile". So I had my reservations, but I wanted to see the place for myself.
On Friday I'd sprained my right index and middle fingers by wrenching them upwards from a twisty two-finger pocket towards another hold, which I was trying to deadpoint. I think it's a pretty serious sprain, especially for my index finger, but I hope that if I take things easy, maybe focus on aerobics and yoga for the next week, I should be able to start crimping with those fingers again soon. In any case, I decided to go to NJC on Saturday anyway, after refreshing my knowledge of the so-called "buddy taping" technique which I'd used heavily as a volleyball player in the past.
I climbed a total of 6 climbs, of which I led 4. The hardest lead was a 5.9, which was a real challenge with two bad fingers. The two toprope routes were "step across", a soft 10a, and "route 66", which is harder than its rated 9 at the end, in my opinion. The grades on the routes I led were reasonably fair, I thought. As for the choss issue, I see what the author of the Owens article meant, but I don't think it's relevant. Yes, the edges of the rock break off quite a bit. It's some sort of metamorphic rock that used to be sandstone, and it breaks into little sharp-angled pieces. Nevertheless, none of the bolts seem to be suspect at all. They're all in large solid spots. So, OK, you're occasionally raining little bits of rock on your belayer. So what? Everyone knows to wear helmets around there. On the other hand, I'd sooner fall on any of these bolts rather than the ones in Santa Barbara sandstone. So, yeah, it's not Owen's, but it's not bad, either. You can get as much climbing as you'd get in the gym, and you get to be outside.
A bunch of big wall climbers got together, got sponsorship and headed out to establish climbs on the big walls of Borneo. Among them was Jimmy Chin, a phenomenal photographer and videographer -- if you've been following climbing mags and movies over the last few years, then you've definitely seen his work. The result was a series of fantastic videos documenting the project, which are posted here. I really enjoyed them, and then I had tons of fun going through the websites of the team members and reading more about their respective adventures.
I was looking over some routes in the Needles so I could send a friend some links and I came upon Igor Unchained. Holy crap! It's beautiful! So I fired off email to Ben:
- I want to be able to lead this by next spring.
In all likelihood I would be able to lead this now, but it would be in bad form and epic, and maybe a little dangerous. And the Needles have a very definite season during which they're both accessible and pleasant, so I can't say let's do it in 6 months. So, OK, let's be generous: next spring. And back came the reply:
- Saturday, May 1, 2010. It's on my calendar. - Time to do some more laps at the gym.
Good partners rock the firmament! And it's been thrown down :-)
On Saturday Ben and I fooled around half the day running up and down boulders on the side of the road by the Kern. It was fun, but it was getting hot and we weren't getting any climbing done. On our way to find a shady spot for lunch I spotted a couple of cracks in a small buttress below the road, a few miles before Johnsondale. Here's the map of the spot. There's a pullout on the left of the road, and the buttress is down the cliff towards the creek from there.
We had some lunch, grabbed our gear and headed down. The approach was a sandy, chossy, bushy mess, and full of trash. Apparently people drive up to the pullout above and trundle all sorts of stuff down towards the creek. We saw rusty metal, tires, lots of broken glass. To be honest, I was a little concerned about the possibility of someone trundling a fridge or something right at us!
We got to the cracks, and my suspicion was confirmed: they were definitely climb-worthy. Here's a picture.
The rock was reasonably good, but it was absolutely covered in lichen. In addition, there were chockstones in the cracks, and a lot of loose rock lying around. There were absolutely no signs that a human had climbed these cracks, or indeed ever stood where we were. No chalk on the rock, no evidence of cleaning, no trails, no nothing.
We decided it would be too risky to try to climb these on lead, since the lichen made it unlikely cams would hold, and in any case the quality of the rock was a complete unknown. So we went to the top of the little buttress to set a toprope on the right-hand crack first. We chose the most enormous of several boulders up top and wrapped it with a 30-foot long webbing I always carry. While up there we trundled those rocks that posed a danger while on toprope. We also decided the belayer would have to be well off to the side of the climber, just in case, for both cracks.
Ben was kind enough to give me the first and easier ascent of the crack on the right. I trundled the first chockstone I came upon because it was obviously loose, and left the second one where it was, completely avoiding it. The climb was fun, with a couple off-width sections, one of which could be avoided by doing a mantle. The lichen, on the other hand, was insane! Smearing was, of course, impossible. Jamming was questionable. My eyes were full of ground-up lichen. Man! Suffering! I enjoyed my dirty, groveling first ascent, and Ben jumped on it. He huffed and puffed and went into the off-width rather than mantel. If indeed I have naming rights, I'd like to call the climb "at last, I made you gasp".
We then decided to shift the rope slightly left and try the face between the cracks before proceeding even further left to the harder crack. I didn't think it would be possible at all, because all the lichen made friction nonexistent, but Ben managed to squeeze a few impressive moves out of it. He then made for a right hand jug, and the jug proceeded to come completely off. Ben avoided getting hit, and the rock embedded itself in the dirt at the base of the climb. Realizing there was another small loose piece, Ben lowered off and we called that route off-limits.
When we went up to shift the anchors for the harder crack, we realized this anchor was going to be considerably trickier than the one for "at last...". For one thing, we needed to trundle a lot of rocks. But also, the only reliable boulder we could wrap was enormous, so we needed to use one of our climbing ropes. Then there was a sharp edge that the anchor rope would have to go over, and, of course, we didn't want to sacrifice a good long rope for one damn crack FA. I suggested redirecting the strong point a little to the side of the sharp section with some well-placed cams, but Ben took it further and devised an anchor at the very top of the crack with three cams. We rigged a way to lower him so he could build that, and then went below to climb.
This second crack was just as dirty as the previous, but also a lot harder. The start was from a little cave with two chockstones, one razor-sharp, up to the crack proper. Here's Ben doing it.
Then I did it, huffing and puffing and cursing, but, miraculously, not falling. Ben decided to call it "seven fingered sloth", in honor of the tape gloves he borrowed from me, which had come unstuck in an interesting seven finger pattern.
After that we messed about for a while looking for other things to climb, I lowered Ben to retrieve the anchor for "sloth", and we headed back up to the car. It's impossible to be sure, but I think we may have been the first people to climb there.
Last weekend's plan had been to head up to Voodoo Dome and Demon Dome, two domes just below the Needles, to climb some multi-pitch classics. We decided to approach via Kernville, but it turned out that the road to these Domes, as well as the road to Dome Rock, were closed. Rockfall for the former, big snowdrifts for the latter. So we ended up playing around the Kern river, on the Kernville slabs, a bit North, and then a bit down the canyon, for our three day weekend.
Everything started with an exhausted arrival on Thursday night at Remington Hot Spring. We camped up near the parking lot and didn't have the energy to head down and check out the hot spring that night. The next morning, of course, found us dashing downhill for a dip in what has to be one of the most scenic hot springs in all of CA. We then grabbed some breakfast at Kernville and spent half the day figuring out that we couldn't get anywhere from there -- all roads up into the mountains were closed. So on Friday midday we hit the Kernville slabs. We first got on a supposedly 5.3 crack just right of the lieback crack, which was phenomenally fun. That's when I started suspecting that some kind of revelation was impending. This rock was really interesting: bright white granite, with clean but not sharp edges, and not one crystal coming off when you touched it. From the top of the crack pitch, we lowered onto the slab on the right and climbed up the slab following a small seam. The friction was amazing!
Then we got off the rock and took a break, because it was hotter than hell, and after a little hesitation decided to get on the lieback crack to round out the day. This route is rated 5.5, but I think that's the very definition of a sandbag. If you're at all insecure on pure friction, or not used to the type of rock, or simply have never done the route before and have any doubts about quite how far you're supposed to stick with the dihedral, this thing is scaaaary. Ben led it, having climbed it a couple times in the past. I followed, and I was hungry so I was probably going a little too fast. Yep, lieback is the way. Initially you don't believe it and you try all sorts of stuff, friction, jamming, but lieback is the way. There are a couple sections where the crack runs out and then you are out on the most perfect, unfeatured granite in the world on friction alone. You put your feet down and sort out what angle will give you the most stick. Then you put the pads of your palms down and pray. The objective is to make upward progress, but it doesn't have to be exclusive, so long as you don't come off the rock. Let me tell you, I did not think this was possible. I thought, surely this violates several laws of physics. It's possible. It's fun. Make sure to not come off the rock when you get past those moves and your body wants to whiplash from being so tightly controlled for those few moments. It's absolutely exhilarating. Geckos must be the happiest little creatures on earth!
On Saturday we decided to head up to Potrero John and see what we could climb there. A bunch of new routes have been put up on the Fortress, and Ben had climbed a couple of those with someone else in the past. We got on an arete called Permanent Income Hypothesis, which is long and cool, but with a lot of loose rock. The start was already in the shade by the time we started and it was windy and cold. Ben did a great job leading, but when it was time for me to start up I was frozen. I couldn't feel my fingers and my shoes were slipping as if they had ice on the bottom. The first move off the ledge is the hardest of the route, and it took me a while to get the confidence to pull it on hands and feet I could barely feel. The rest of the route is easier climbing, but you're often on top of blocks of sandstone which to me look like they will come off eventually, probably soon. So during the upper section I was having visions of taking falls with a giant block of sandstone in my hands. When I got up top I found Ben shivering, so we prepped our two rope rap and headed down asap. The rope wasn't coming down after the rap, so I put a Klemheist on it and climbed up the chimney/off-width on the right up past the intermediate rap rings until I got to a point where I could pull the ropes. I still haven't figured out precisely why it was stuck. By the end of all this I was nicely warmed up, but not having the greatest climbing day.
A friend's regular climbing partner was out today, so the friend needed a belay at the gym. Except he usually climbs in the lead cave, and I've never bothered to get lead certified at a gym, in SB or SD. My attitude towards the gym is that it constitutes training in a very general sense: it's supposed to develop or keep in shape the muscles I need to be able to climb outside, as I do every other weekend, but I don't treat the routes there as serious climbing challenges in themselves. I don't know whether it's because they're set by humans, or because the place is mobbed with people who are either new or simply not that good, but I just can't take the gym seriously as anything more than gymnastics. This is all by way of explaining how I found myself taking the lead certification test tonight. The test was far easier at this gym than it was at the UCSB gym, where in addition to belaying, arresting a fall and leading successfully, they wanted you to give a dynamic catch, demonstrate back-clipping and z-clipping, and would fail you if your hands went anywhere near the rope while taking a lead fall. So, of course, I passed, and got to climb in the lead cave. I took it very easy, since my elbow and left ring finger, my two current injuries, were both making themselves felt after Monday's hard climbing. I made it 4 clips up the white "cakewalk" overhanging route, on which I could have gone much further, a couple clips up another juggy overhanging route, and did a 5.8 and a 5.9 vertical route. All in all, it was a fine experience, and it's given me a couple more projects to work on... Oh, and I saw a guy z-clipping and yelled out to him to let him know, but since I never raise my voice, the whole thing made me feel really bad, even though it was obviously for his own good.
I heard about this fantastic interview with John Bachar on Climbing Radio from ClimbingNarc. I love the whole thing, but I especially loved his description of free soloing on-sight towards the end of the interview. He talks about how he went through two sections on this 500 ft 5.11 climb and thought, surely, each of them must be the crux, only to get to a lieback section further up and realize that's it. So he describes how he made it through that section feeling not solid, but not like he was going to fall either, then got up to the top of the climb and stood there feeling hollow, like he hadn't so much achieved something, but more like the mountain had let him get away with something. He likened it to surviving a car accident, where you walk around in a daze for the next few days. I think he hit a couple nails on the head there...
Something that really impressed me about Bachar (but, be warned, Ben and I interpreted this differently) was that he didn't rise to what I thought was obvious baiting by the hosts of the show when they asked him what he thought of Dean Potter's free-soloing with a BASE rig. Bachar's response was well-considered and completely lacking of any "oh these youngsters these days, we were so much cooler" attitude. He basically said that he didn't think having a BASE suit on did anything to diminish the seriousness of Dean Potter's free soloing. Dean still had to be solid climbing, and, in addition, needed to have the presence of mind to push off the rock and deploy the rig correctly if he was to derive any benefit from it. I guess you'll always find me rooting for old-timers with a healthy respect for the younger generation and the fact that times inevitably a-change.
Little snippets and shorter versions of this video have made into every climbing website, as well as the movie "the Sharp End". I like this one because it's high quality, complete, focused, and therefore seems authoritative. There's a lot of footage of the actual climbing, as well as the really recognizable snippets from the movie and the quotable bits. Personally I like the claim that "the fear is the danger", and I think it's true not just in the free soloing context but also in the leading context. All considerations of danger and contingency belong to the preparation phase of the climb. When they creep into the climb actual, they become a danger in themselves.
On Tuesday morning we were up for seeing some of the more scenic parts of the park, doing some sport climbing, and maybe trying our luck on some harder grades. So we headed to the Panty Wall, with only one pack full of gear: a single rope and quickdraws. Regular sport climbers!
The Panty Wall is off the first pull-out in the scenic loop, nestled among the gorgeous crimson boulders there. The hike getting there was gorgeous, although we found out that the big pine tree that the guide book uses as a landmark for the place blew down on Christmas 2008 and is now lying in dying pieces at the base of the rock. RIP pine tree... I first led the Panty Prow, a 5.6 arete up and left of the Panty Wall, and then we toproped Victoria's Secret (down and right of the anchor) (10b) and Ben did Panty Mime (down and left from the anchor), a 10d for which there are bolts, but which I think would be an absolutely terrifying lead. In fact VS worked me pretty hard. I must have taken 4 or 5 falls, and I didn't make the last 10 feet or so of the climb.
We then moved down to the Panty Wall proper, where a party of Canadians, and a group of three women were also hanging out. There must be an unwritten rule that chicks lead at the Panty Wall, because in all three parties there the leaders were women. I led Boxer Rebellion, Sacred Undergarment Squeeze Job, and Brief Encounter, one 7 and two 8s, with great style and aplomb. In my mind those climbs were far easier than their rating would suggest, and the whole experience got me thinking about the strangeness of the rating system: in what sense is the difficulty of Pauligk's Pillar in the same class as Boxer Rebellion? In any case, we were assured by an old-timer we ran into on the hike out that the grades at Panty Wall are fair for the area.
We'd been planning all along to do one long multi-pitch climb at least. Since Tuesday was going to involve a lot of driving, and hence an early departure from Red Rocks, but by Monday the drugs should have kicked in, we chose Monday as our epic day. We'd mentioned this plan to the local we'd met a couple days before, Sean, and he'd suggested that instead of doing one of the mobbed routes, e.g. Cat in the Hat, we should try Birdland. So when we left the campground on Monday morning, bright and early, but not too early and definitely not too bright, we were headed for Birdland. When we spotted it from the trail, around 9am, there were already two parties on it. Two parties ahead of us qualified, in our mind, as mobbed, so we figured, how much worse could Cat in the Hat be? We continued round the corner of Mescalito to Cat in the Hat, and found one party ahead of us and one forlorn climber, whose partner had gone back to the car (a 45 minute hike away) to get her shoes. So we jumped on it. Depending on how you count, Can in the Hat could have anywhere from 4 to 6 pitches. We did one pitch, a scramble, two more pitches, a traverselet, and a final technical pitch. I call that 4, even thought we re-racked for the traverselet. I didn't especially like the 1st or 2nd pitches, but I loved the 3rd (typical broken varnished face climbing of the area, like Spidercrack), and thought the 4th was OK. We caught up with the party ahead of us at the base of the 4th pitch, and while we were waiting I got to go down a crevice just below us and retrieve three booty nuts (two BD 6s and a 2 micro-stopper ridiculous thingy). The view from the top was absolutely beautiful. We met a Canadian who gave us big wall tips and suggestions for routes to do in Yosemite. Turns out his grandpa was born hours away from where mine was born. Small world. He pegged me as Greek after taking one long look at me. "You look just like my cousin." I was flabbergasted. We rapped down and had to wait a bunch in places, because by that point there were maybe 8 parties on the rock, heading both up and down... All in all, though, the day was a tremendous success: we did the climb, we were fast, we negotiated the social aspects just fine. If anything, it wasn't much of an epic, but given that I was sick, I'm somewhat grateful for that.
On the third day of Christmas I was feeling much better. The second day had found me at maybe 20% my normal energy levels, but by the third day I was up to maybe 40%, which was respectable. We decided to go check out some short multi-pitch routes at Pine Creek Canyon, so we saddled up our packs and headed out. While later in the day climbing would prove to be not so hard on me, hiking with packs was really rough, going to show that it was stamina and cardiovascular performance that the sinus infection was compromising.
We had decided to look at routes on Mescalito, and got pretty excited about Cookie Monster as we looked at it from below. But we overshot the approach, and ended up at the base of Cat in the Hat, then turned back and went up the little escarpment to the base of Cookie Monster. Because Cookie Monster was going to end at the top of the second pitch of Cat in the Hat, and require us to rappel down that side of the massif, with our packs left behind at the base of the climb, I wasn't too keen on it. We decided to try the climb a couple cracks to the right. I proceeded to misidentify the crack as Pauligk Pillar (which in fact is on the right hand side of the big jumble in the middle of the face), and memorize the beta for that. As it turns out, the climb we got on was C11H17NO3 (the chemical formula for mescalin). There was something disturbing going on the climb we'd chosen: we could see bailing gear all over the place. Just from the base, we could see a sling with a biner wrapped around a horn of some sort, presumably for rappelling, and a jumble of slings a little to the left. Should that have been a warning to us? I don't know. We pressed on. The start of the climb was a little spooky, slightly overhanging and a little awkward, but then it turned into a chimney of sorts with good holds everywhere. Ben made his way up, and at some point, out of sight, stopped and belayed me up. On the way up I found another nut, in a bomber placement for bailing, and Ben said there was yet another one a little further up. When I arrived to where Ben was he explained we weren't at a proper belay station, but the spot between us and the belay tree looked unprotectable, a polished face in a chimney too large to stem. It sketched Ben out, but I saw all the holds, I knew they were good, and I was confident I wasn't going to fall out of any of them, so I went on. In my mind the sketchiest thing about going ahead in this manner, to complete the pitch, was that I wasn't carrying a full rack. I only had a few stoppers, a couple slings and a cordelette. On the way up I slung a horn, in kind of Hail Mary fashion, since I wasn't too sure it would hold, and placed a nut, and there I was. I belayed Ben up and we assessed the situation. At this point the beta I'd memorized (for the wrong route, remember?) was making absolutely no sense. But from where we were we could see three or four sling jumbles off to climber's right, so we decided to go that way. In retrospect we think that was the second pitch of the "regular" route, on quite soft and sandy rock. We went up a pitch that way, and the quality of the rock did not seem to be improving. Thankfully we had tons of bailing options to choose from, so bail we did. Perplexed down at the base, we sorted out my misidentification mistake, rested and had some food, patted ourselves on the back for returning in one piece and with booty (a sling, a biner, a couple quick links, and we could have had two more nuts!), and considered our options.
Since Pauligk's Pillar was the only short multi-pitch route with a star around that area, I really wanted to find it. We struck off counter-clockwise around Mescalito, and sure enough we located the route and made it to the base. By then that side of Mescalito was in the shade, and it looked vaguely ominous. I looked up at the thing, and I really really wanted to climb it. Ben looked up, and he really really didn't want to lead it. So we stood there, studying the problem: the first few moves off the ground were truly scary. I could identify where each hand and foot should go, but there were no alternatives, and for the first move, if anything blew, it would all blow. I thought I could do it. Further up it looked steep, but featured and actually quite varied. This was not just one crack in a dihedral, there were a couple crack systems running through it, and the face on the right had lots of holds. So I decided to lead it. The guide called for doubles to three inches, so I took everything, including the #4. The start was a mind game: it was all about getting on the holds, realizing they would hold, realizing they would not hold forever, making a plan and executing the next move. If I snoozed or froze I'd fall right on top of Ben's head and we'd tumble down off the belay ledge. So I did it. Maybe three moves up I could see a placement for a hand sized cam, so I took it: my Jesus piece. Then I left that whole mind game behind me and got on with the climb. This was 170 ft long climb, so I knew I'd have to ration my pro. I didn't want to run it out too much, so I decided on a strategy for placements: place when the length of the fall starts getting unacceptable, or to protect cruxes. At first that meant only first criterion was getting used: the climb was athletic, all steep, but very juggy. I wasn't planning on blowing any of my cranks, and I was following another little rule I'd developed: no more than one foot on those strange face plate holds, because, while they were excellent holds, I did not trust them to take my whole weight and hold. I got to sling a couple little pillars of rock, attached both at the top and bottom, formed by water eating all the rock around them. Those were fun. Then there was a chimney to my left which I avoided by going on the face to the right. Rationing pro, thinking really hard about what to place and where, and trying, for the life of me, to find a place to put something passive, a nut or a tri-cam, but in the end relying almost completely on cams and my two slung runnels. Then things got a little more serious. Just before the belay station I ran into two crux moves. The first was in a section where the dihedral was now a proper dihedral, left side polished, right side with a couple features, crack in the middle. I could fit a jam, so I protected above it, and made the move. The next was just below the belay, where there was an off-width in the left, and the face on the right was kind of messy. I was standing on a ledge and my options were to go into the off-width or stay outside it and stem on various broken pieces. I reached up and stuck a #1 in a side crack above me, then, for the first time, made a move not knowing what my next move would be. I managed the whole thing without going into the off-width, the prospect of which had terrified me. The belay ledge was big enough for one foot. The anchor was a hex, a nut, and a sling wedged behind a rock that was, as far as I could see, not a chockstone. I don't like hanging belays under the best of circumstances (probably because I'm not so hot on my harness), but at the end of my third trad lead, while trying to keep how desperate that all could have been safely tucked away at the back of my mind, then I really don't like hanging belays. So I set it up. I clipped everything, and I made a spot to manage the rope, and I triple-checked everything. Then I started bringing Ben up. It was getting darker; I didn't have a watch, but I knew that since we had to get out of the parking lot by 7 we probably wouldn't have time for the second pitch. It looked like more of the same anyway. And as I sat there belaying Ben up, the whole climb started sinking in. Climbing it had been fine, step by step, all secure and thought out, placements were good, dandy. Reliving it my head, contingencies and all, was another matter all together. When Ben came into view it was like sunshine. I swear, I'm not a sap, but it had been a long lead, into a steep, relatively dark corner, and when the guy that usually sets up my anchors, and double-checks my knots came into view, I wanted to whoop with joy. He got up to the belay, ahem, not quite ledge... foothold? Took a look up at the second pitch and knew he didn't want to lead it. I said we didn't have time anyway. We set up the rap, and at this point I was very grateful for his fresh energy, since the contingency loop in the back of my mind was sapping mine. We got down, and the route looked scary on the rap down. We got the ropes out without getting them stuck. Holy fuck, I pulled that off! I know we're only talking 5.7, but that was a proud moment for me, a very proud lead.
On Saturday I woke up feeling slightly better, probably not because of the antibiotics proper, since I'd only taken one dose by then, but rather because I knew that issue had been handled and now it was up to me to climb, somehow.
We returned to the Ragged Edges wall, and made it to the route of the same name before anyone else showed up, so we set up and Ben was already making his way up the first pitch when other climbers started arriving. I warned everyone we were going to take our time on this one, since it was our first climb of the day, but even so, Ben was looking really tentative. He made it to the top of the first pitch, and I followed, but he wasn't feeling it for the second, and by then the ground was crawling with 5 or 6 other people, so we moved away. We moved left to an easy crack called "Diplomatic Immunity", and then to another yet further left called something like zigzag crack.
We took a good long break during lunch, and I have to admit, I think I caught a tiny nap, too, and then moved across to the other side of the canyon to do "Spidercrack". This climb is typical of this area, but I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. It's not really a crack proper, but rather a broken up face with lots of opportunities to place stoppers. While Ben was leading Spidercrack I got to shoot the shit with a real local down at the base, and to relay some beta. This was especially cool, because I do love meeting the locals, the people who actually put up the routes and climb them year after year and have all these stories to tell. After that we called it a night relatively early, since I was still feeling pretty crappy.
Ben and I had been planning a trip to Indian Creek in Utah, a crack climbing Mecca, for months. But in the week leading up to the trip it became obvious that the forecast wasn't going to cooperate, so we had to come up with an alternative, fast. We considered Bishop, our default option, Yosemite Valley, and Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. Red Rocks had been highly recommended by our friend Max and I'd read about it in Climber Girl's blog. I'd also heard people at the gym rave, and we knew it was prime Red Rocks season, so we decided to divert to Red Rocks.
The original plan had been to meet at Victorville on Thursday night and make our way up to Vegas, but come Thursday morning I woke up with the cold I'd been nursing for the past few days continuing to take its course for the worse. So we postponed our start to Friday morning. As planned we met at Victorville, arriving within 5 minutes of each other despite the three hour drive, and continued to Vegas in my car (having been told that 4x4 would be helpful if we wanted to climb in certain places). We got to Vegas around noon, and made a quick stop at Desert Rock Sports to pick up Jerry Handren's guide book (which I had been told is exceptionally good, and I concur with that assessment). The guys at DRS recommended Rio, a fresh Mexican food place, for lunch, so we went, and, frankly, we were impressed! Fed and watered, we made our way to the BLM campground, which was chock full. We checked in with the host, thinking we were screwed and would have to go to the next closest campground 20 miles away, but the host told us to camp anywhere near the overflow area and try to minimize stepping on plants. We were so grateful!
After pitching the tent, I was all fired up about hitting a crag, so we headed out to the Ragged Edges wall, which had been recommended by Bob, the local RR expert at my gym. When we got there there were other people on Ragged Edges, so we picked a 5.5 crack to the left of Ragged Edges to familiarize ourselves with the rock quality. Ben led it, and scored a 0.5 camalot in the process, and I followed. I'd been feeling crappy all day, with huge amounts of snot, coughing and a sore throat, but climbing absolutely did me in. We got off that 5.5 and my head was throbbing. My sinuses were so bad that I was in agony whenever I tilted my head even slightly. Good luck climbing like that! We stood under Ragged Edges, looking up at the thing, wanting to climb it, yet I was moaning in pain. Finally, Ben made the decision that I, in my cloudy, pained state could not bring myself to make: we should deal with the sinus infection now, before it ruins our vacation. We'd spotted an urgent care place on Charleston St on the drive to the campground, but I was concerned it would either be closed before we got there (it was about 5pm when we left the crag) or they'd refuse to prescribe antibiotics, which I was in obvious need of, and tell me to wait it out. Taking our chances, we headed there as fast as we could, and once there everything turned out well: the place was open and they prescribed amoxicillin. We dropped off the prescription at Walmart and went for a beer at a local sports bar around the corner, where we had tons of fun rooting for State (don't even remember which State!) along with everyone else in the joint, in a basketball game. After that we picked up my drugs and called it a night.
This weekend Ben and I hit Mission Gorge and Mt. Woodson to take in the local cragging scene. At Mission Gorge we climbed close to Lunch rock, doing a 5.8 crack to the left of it (with a hilarious name which is now eluding me), and then moving to Lunch rock proper. I led Lunch rock left, then we toproped the crack that runs up its middle, then the arete and then Ben managed the face on the right hand side, while I only made it halfway up.
Yesterday we returned to Mt. Woodson to visit what's becoming a new obsession, the Robbins crack. It was initially occupied, so we sent a 5.8 off-width problem behind the painted boulder first. It was near there that I had an unexpected encounter with a very very large and very pissy rattlesnake. We returned to the Robbins crack, which Ben aided up. Then I toproped it cleanly all the way up, to my great surprise, and, of course, so did Ben. We threw the rope onto the other side, which features Lie detector, a crack that starts as 12b fingers (if that) and continues as a 10b fingers-to-hands. We aided past the 12b section and both toproped the top section. In the beginning of the top section the crack was chock full of bird or rat or something shit. It was really nasty, because it smelled, and there was absolutely no choice but to stick your fingers directly into it. I frankly found the whole climb really hard to do, because, after aiding up 15 feet, and sticking my fingers into shit, I just couldn't wait to get off the damn rock! We then moved up the trail a bit to the Baby Robbins crack, a 20 foot tall 5.9 thin hand crack. For whatever reason, I decided to lead the thing, this being not only my second trad lead ever, but also a grade up from any serious sport leads I'd done (excepting Malibu creek). The feet were really bad in the lower section, so I hung, thought about it, restarted it from the ground and eventually led the whole sucker. It wasn't led in great style, but it was a legitimately hard start, so I'm proud of it anyway. We wrapped up the day by free-soloing a couple very short 5.8 cracks around the corner from Baby Robbins.
When you're in grade school, maybe even high school, you have that nightmare where you're naked in class. Then you get older and you think it's over, but you go to college and get the one about having registered for a class and then forgetting about it, and getting an F at the end of the quarter because you never showed up. Then you get even older and start climbing and as a follower you get the one about the stuck cam. Motherfucker won't come out! Then you start leading and you think, smooth sailing from now on! But no! Then you get the one about, I bought new cams but do they come with biners? Do we have enough biners?
Excited about the upcoming trip to Indian Creek, UT, I went on ebay last night and ordered a set of 7 used rigid stem friends. Fingers crossed that they'll arrive before we leave for the trip.
In the meantime another couple highly anticipated pieces of gear have arrived: my Marmot cloudlight jacket, and my icebreaker 200 leggings. I've been wanting these for months!
Ben got a couple rigid friends on ebay as well, but, more importantly, he's managed to borrow what sounds like a veritable arsenal of cams. When I asked him how on earth we'd carry 500 lbs of gear to the cracks in IC, he replied something to the effect of that's why he loves me. Hah! He's got another thing coming!
This past weekend saw another successful JTree climbing expedition. We met at the park entrance on Thursday night and snagged the last camping spot at Ryan Campground, after finding Hidden Valley full.
On Friday morning we visited white lightning on the Hemingway buttress. This was a route we'd intended to do with Dima in the summer, but it had been mobbed then, so we had instead done Feltonean physics. This time we made it there before anyone else and Ben led right up. As we were coming down to toprope poodles are people too, two guys, one with a stereo playing Bob Marley in his pack, free-soloed white lightning behind us. Ben did fine on the poodles, but the crux defied me. Given time I would have gotten it, but I wanted to move on and also into the sun, because it was quite cold in the shade. So we moved on to mindless mound and got on Maggie's farm. We unanimously decided it was awkward. We got the rope stuck rapping down to the right of the route, but were planning to go up rainy day women, anyway, so we left it there. This was a straightforward route except for one spooky long move at the end. Anyway, we retrieved the rope and got off the mindless mound. In the future, I'd really like to do don't think twice, a beautiful 5.9 crack in a dihedral, with a little roof, to the right of the two routes we did. We called it a day after that, and gobbled the chili I'd brought from home back at the campground.
On Saturday we decided to head towards dappled mare, a 3-pitch route on Lost Horse Rock, that we'd heard was really high quality. But then we opted for a 5.7 alternative called the swift to the left of that. As it turns out, we did the first pitch of the swift, but then accidentally went left instead of right in the second pitch. That means we did the second pitch of altitude sickness. After that I claimed we should go left, but Ben, being in the lead, decided to go right. As it turns out, the route to the right was a 5.10a, which Ben aided up. When it came time to clean it I was cursing and hanging and trying to pull the dozen pieces he'd placed. The climbing moves were not that hard, but hanging off a tenuous left arm while trying to pull out gear with the right, and no feet... not so doable. Eventually I decided "fuck this rigid friend" and climbed up. I sent Ben down, only to find out that, "oh, that.... that's fixed gear, it's not mine". I swear, I could have dropped him right then! Anyway, he toproped that section and agreed the climbing wasn't that bad, but both leading and following it was a pain. The view from the top of Lost Horse Rock was absolutely stunning, so we hung out up there for a while. We then got to the base, took a short nap, and decided to visit an old nemesis of mine, music box at Belle campground. Ben led this cold, miserable crack in so much style! When my turn came I remembered why I hated it so much: the thing is completely off-every-limb-I-possess. I was camming my wrist and jamming my arm and trying to grovel up that bastard, but the rope ran under a cam so Ben couldn't take very well, and, well, I just gave up after falling a couple times. That crack is a fucker! Pissed as hell, back to dinner at the campsite and everything felt better.
On Sunday we decided to play around the jumble of rocks at the base of Headstone Rock near the campground. We first did the two short classic cracks on the Eastern side -- tall boulder problems really, just like finger food. While we were setting up toprope anchors for those, I accidentally dropped Ben's water bottle down a crevice to the left of the climbs. I was going to leave it there, but I had 5 minutes to spare, so I went hunting for it. After much grunting, dirt and mouse poop in the face I found not only Ben's, but also Ethan's water bottle, three BD bent-gate biners and an original Chouinard oval biner! Booty! Anyway, after enjoying those two cracks, we moved clockwise around the jumble to two more cracks and the face between them. After that we decided to have proper lunch for a change, instead of the power bars of the previous days, and, let me tell you, that made a huge difference! From now on I'm doing real food for lunch while climbing! After lunch we sent a 10 second wonder scoop-to-crack problem on the west face of the Headstone jumble, and then rambled on to the East towards several other rock outcroppings and the ruins of the Ryan ranch. After circling those to no avail we decided to head to some slabs to our south. When we got there we found a couple vertical but not very worthwhile cracks, and one big arcing traverse. I decided this would make a reasonable practice trad lead for me, since the climbing would not amount to much, thought the granite was granola, and the pro placements should be straightforward. So I borrowed Ben's rack, and I led that thing. It went well, and I belayed Ben up and we sat in the wind and setting sun and enjoyed the high of a big first for me. If that route doesn't already have a name, I think "solar ecliptic" would suit it.
Ben and I met up with a bunch of other folks at J-tree this three-day weekend. We got rained out today, but Saturday was gorgeous, and yesterday was a good climbing day despite the cold.
On Saturday we went to Feudal wall and Short wall in the Indian Cove area. We warmed up on Donna T's crack on the Short wall (a supposedly 5.5 crack that I thought was much easier than that). Then we climbed Court Jester, a 5.7 off-width, and the Castrum, a 5.10a just to the left of it on the Feudal wall. Finally we went back to the Short wall and sent Toe Jam express and S.O.B. in style.
Sunday was a lot more eventful. We went to the Echo Rock area planning to get on Double Dip, which Chiru had suggested might be a good first lead. Our friends jumped on that first, so we moved a little to the right, to Stichter Quits, a 5.7 slab climb we'd seen a couple climbing. We talked to them and they assured us it was "mellow" if a little run out. So Ben got on it, but didn't have the stomach for it first thing in the morning, so I took over after the first bolt. I led up to the fourth and final bolt before the anchor. I took a fall between the third and fourth bolts, but it was nothing to write home about; tried the move a more direct way and made it. Then I realized the run-out was basically the top 40% of the route, and decided I wasn't really cool with that long of a potential fall. Ben toproped it from the fourth bolt, made the same decision about the run-out and we bailed -- note to self, I owe him a biner -- essentially having made it 60% up the route. Still, it was a super fun lead while it lasted... We then decided to move to some of the routes further back and to the right from Echo rock. We got on Eff Eight, a 5.8 flaring, left-sloping crack. Ben was making his way up this awkward beast, having placed two cams, when he called for a take and took a fall. The rest happened really fast: the top TCU pulled and Ben decked just to my left as I flew 3 or 4 feet up the rock. The first piece held. I was looking at Ben trying to figure out how he'd landed and what was broken, but he assured me I'd caught him and it had been a soft landing. Then he went, "you can lower now", and that's when the silliness of the situation hit me: Ben was on his ass on the ground and I was locked off four feet off the ground, hanging off a piece of pro that had just taken a giant load and could pull out and dump me on my ass any second... So we put a toprope on that bitch and climbed it, and decided any crack crumbly enough for gear to pull out of qualifies as choss.
Just before toproping Eff Eight we'd seen a guy free solo a crack across from us on the back side of Echo Rock. So on the way back we threw a rope on it and climbed it. That was Finger Food, a 5.10a.
So now having climbed two 5.10a's, I'm forced to say they must be rated that high because of the difficulty in leading them, because as toprope climbs they really don't rate 5.10a in my book...
After Finger Food, things got really cold really fast. We checked out Echo Cove and decided against any of the routes there, and called it a day.
So, yeah, two lead falls on the new rope, one of them 13 feet to the deck after a TCU pulled. And my whole right side, the one that stopped Ben's fall, is killing me. But Ben's alive, which is about as good as it gets.
This was a really fun climbing weekend, my first in San Diego. Ben drove down Friday night, and we had cheesesteak sammiches. On Saturday morning we drove out to El Cajon mountain. We made the approach in an hour and forty minutes (where the guidebook said an hour and a half) and I nearly died. It was a long, hot, uphill slog. There was a party of three on Leonids and a pair on Crystalean, so we went even further left to No Burritos. We could tell a couple bolts were damaged but were hoping things would look up further up. Ben went up and protected a couple spots with cams only to find there was no good way to reach the closest anchor. So he built an anchor with cams and lowered off, and we resolved we'd rap down to them from above to retrieve our gear. We then went even further left and started up the 5.5 ramp. We turned left at the bolted two pitch route Buffalo Brothers and went all the way up that. It's rated 5.8 on the diagram and 5.7 in the text of the guide book, but I think 5.7 is about right. It was really fun. We then rapped down, traversed the ramp and rappelled down the line of Crystalean, making a stop and a short lead up to retrieve our gear, and then all the way to the bottom. Then Ben toproped what looked like the first pitch of Crystalean. The downhill de-proach was far faster than the approach, but no less unpleasant to rickety-kneed me. Sunday we headed to Mt Woodson, another place with an uphill slog of an approach. We were fascinated by Lie Detector, which was way too hard for either of us to attempt, but were resolved to try our luck on the Robbins crack on the back of the same boulder (technically the backside of the same crack, in fact). We dilligently did the warmup problems on the boulder behind Robbins, but they were scant preparation for the real deal, which the guide calls "sweetest 24ft crack in the world". Ben started up, fell on his first placement, then aided the rest of the way up. I flailed up, hanging on the rope a couple times. Actually, someone must have been watching me top out, because there was cheering and clapping, but it was embarassing. Then Ben toproped it and slipped once, but otherwise did fine. Then I messed around a bunch, discovering that if I focused on two hand jams and only a left foot jam I could get through the bottom hard section a lot faster and without barn-dooring off to the right. Then Ben flew up it and broke down the anchor. After that we hiked to the top of the mountain and sat in the shade realizing that we were completely good and spent. We headed down, pausing to send a 5.8 hand to off-width problem, but then called it a successful day. That Robbins crack is going to eat my brain until I get on it again, I just know it. I'm now determined to practice my jamming skills like mad.