Wacky Weather Weekends

28 05 2008

The last two weekends we spent time exploring some areas that we had not been to. Our efforts were motivated by the crazy weather systems that have been moving through California and the rest of the country. One week of crazy hot weather was followed by the coldest temps we have had in two months. Traveling between the mountains and the desert we were able to get in a bit of climbing both last weekend and this weekend.

Last weekend were above 90 degrees in the Santa Monica Mountains so drove up to Big Bear Lake, home of the Holcomb Valley Pinnacles. Big Bear, sitting above 7000 feet is also home to a bunch of ski resorts that are very popular among the LA hoards.

With a late start and a long drive we were barely climbing by noon. Luckily the cliff had chosen was going into the shade and was fairly uncrowned. We enjoyed closely bolted sport climbs on well featured granite. The rock had fun holds but the quality was less than desirable. On one of my projects for the day I managed to make the start a bit harder when the hold under my foot flaked off the wall. The good right hand crimp used for the crux start sequence on Road Crew was now half the size. Luckily I was still able to do the move with the smaller hold.

We were able to climb almost all of the routes on the East face of orbit rock and determined that upon a return visit we would need to seek out some of the other crags in hope of better rock quality.

For Memorial Day weekend we had planned on taking a relaxing trip to the Needles. This would fit with the upward trend in the temps and it would nice to escape the crowds and enjoy some remote camping. This was not in the cards for us as the forecast showed plunging temps and possibly snow fall. How could it be 70 in the mountains one weekend and 30 the next? To make matters worse it seemed that the main gate to the road to the Needles was still closed which firmly pushed this plan from our minds. A rainy forecast for most of SoCal on Saturday kept us grounded in San Diego. A few of our brave friends, Jamie and Nikki ventured out to Idyllwild for some bouldering at Black Mountain. You can see in the photo above that they found fresh snow! Despite the wet and cold conditions Jamie reported that they had a great time!
On Sunday we made the short drive and long hike out to El Cajon Mountain. This crag was the crown jewel of San Diego sport climbing before one of the climbers became disgruntled and chopped a good number of the quality routes. He even went so far as to break holds on one route that had been rebolted after he had chopped it. Thanks to some information from some of the more knowledgeable locals we were able to sort out some climbs to do that were still fully bolted.
The day was still quite overcast and we though there were thunder claps on our hike in. Luckily for the resounding bangs were just echoes in the valley from some locals going at it with their rifle. We were the only ones at the main wall on Sunday but were assaulted with noises of gunshots for the first half of the day.
The granite of El Cajon Mountain is very featured and much more solid than what we found on Orbit Rock. There were wonderful patina crimpers and incut flakes studding the walls. We managed 7 pitches between 4 routes before the weather turned to cold to be multipitching. Our timing ended up working very well as we ran into two of the route developers on our way out. They had been climbing near by and were able to give us suggestions on good routes to do.

Monday the weather did not significantly improve so we headed south and east to the desert near the Mexican border. Our sights were set on another granite sport climbing crag called the Valley of the Moon. With the trusty Rav4 we hoped that we could make it in the 4wd road to the crag.
We managed the steep drive up the saddle that lead into the Valley and were just starting down the road when another Jeep came up behind us and suggested we scout the next section of road. This was slightly worrisome since we had just spent the last 10 minutes figuring out how to get the Rav4 through a set of large rocks on the road. The Rav is quite able with AWD but has fairly low clearance for a small SUV which is made worse by the large running boards.
We hopped out of the car so we could preview the “crux” section of the approach. We were greatly saddened to see a steep downhill studded with large ruts and boulders. Our first look revealed that we had no chance and we turned around. Even if we could have made it down without doing too much damage to our car it would be even more difficult to come back up and we were in the middle of no where. On our drive back out we got stopped by Board Patrol who check our car for immigrants. They were courteous and let us go on our way. The road goes practically all the way to the boarder and one of the cliffs is half in the US half in Mexico.

In the hope of salvaging the day and still doing a bit of climbing we went to the McCain valley which was on the way back to San Diego. We did not have a bouldering pad, which is what the valley is mainly known for so we headed to Lowenbrau Pinnacle which is the only leadable rock. With only quickdraws and a rope we managed to only do a bit of climbing. Despite blue skies and sunny weather constant wind made it quite cold expediting our return to San Diego.

I am excited for a bit more regularity in the weather so bring on the summer! All photos are from El Cajon Mountain.

– Luke

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