Alpine Retreat – Clipping Bolts at Mt Charleston

25 06 2008

I needed to get out, I just wanted to leave, go somewhere, change the flow of things. But I am not a spontaneous person, I like to make plans and follow them. This balance always strikes me and I don’t know what to do, which furthers my problem. I like doing things, keeping busy and chugging forward. I enjoy keeping my schedule full so that when I do have some free time I enjoy it and truly relax.

Friday came around and plans for the weekend were far from settled. Lizzy had been spending time in her Air Conditioned room away from 100+ degree heat while I had been plugging along at work. Even climbing in the shade we would be met with 90+ degree weather and would likely melt before sending anything. Our drastic times called for drastic measures and I came up with a plethora of plans. This can easily become a problem as Lizzy and I try to sort between the nuisances of each possible climbing location. The common theme was high elevation and camping. We would need to spend the whole weekend out of LA and somewhere cool. Fearing the hoards and with a slight dislike of the granite of Big Bear we decided on Mt Charleston.

Gas these days I at a premium and adds new words to the American vocabulary like “Stay-cation” but honestly who the hell wants to do that. I want to explore the world, I want to journey to new places and I want to get out of here. NOW! Adjusting to meet the best temperatures I worked on Saturday and we left for Vegas on Saturday night. The five and half hour drive was traffic free but required constant AC as we made our way into the Vegas heat. After passing by the strip we headed north on the 95 out into the unknown. A small turn off and a sign for Mt Charleston signaled our rise to elevation and a retreat into cooler temperatures. Reservations were suggested but required three days of advanced notice for the Kyle Canyon Campgrounds.

With the two main campgrounds full we headed to the Mary Jane Area. This multiple abuse site, once home to a historical ski tow, was a gravel parking lot near the Mary Jane trailhead. All of the “spots” on the periphery were taken so we parked near the center and set up our tent. Bugs instantly flocked to our headlamps but the temperatures had dropped and we were quickly asleep. With the sun rising around 5am, I was excited and anxious to go climbing. Getting up to go to the bathroom at first light I had seen towering limestone walls and had a hard time going back to sleep.Unable to wait any longer, I roused Lizzy and we packed up and had breakfast by 6:30. After a bit of confused driving, undoubtedly caused by our mere 6 hours of sleep, we wound up hiking up the trail next to the ski tow. Our trail led us to the base of the north facing Imagination Wall, 500 feet of glorious limestone. At the base of our warm-up the rock was intimidating and devoid of familiar features. Sharp crimps and runnels dotted the face and without chalk the sequence was far from obvious. The base of the Imagination wall is slabby and the rock offers excellent friction, the climbing requires subtle body movement and a keen eye for “holds”. After warming up I jumped on a 10d that might make a good lead for Lizzy. This however was far from the truth. After breaking a foothold, stick clipping the second bolt and shakely climbing to the 3rd bolt at 40 feet I decided to bail. The next bolt was 15 feet higher and I was not yet confident on this type of climbing. I had fallen prey to the Exacto Blade (the route’s name) and did not have the mental energy to complete this route that was undoubtedly bolted on lead.


Confidence shattered, we moved down the cliff to try a few of the other “moderate routes”. After bailing on three different variations of this 11a, I found passage on one of the harder neighboring routes. While not a clean lead I was finally able to make it to the top. The ending of this 11b had what I wanted, wonderful pinches and crimps, tricky footwork and tension moves, most importantly real HOLDS! Finally getting to climb after my flailathon Lizzy mad quick work of this balancey climb.

After one more fun 11b, evidently the good grade to climb at this wall, and a bit of heinous top roping we departed for Robbers Roost. The weather had been ideal and the wall was completely in the shade causing Lizzy to don all of our jackets. Even though we were a bit tired I convinced Lizzy that more climbing was in order and with the promise of a five minute approach we were on our way. The scene at Robbers Roost was the opposite of the solitude of the Imagination Wall. There were tourists and climbers sandwiched in the cave like venue. The walls were covered with fixed draws and chalk and most of the climbs were overhanging.

With some friendly advice from one of the locals we warmed up again and we did a few more climbs. While these routes had tricky cruxes they had nice holds and jugs and one even had a sit down rest. Excited by a more athletic style we decided to return the next day so Lizzy and I could work on some harder routes. Hilltop, the third campground in the area, was close by and we still needed a place to sleep. With showers and a toilet this was a big step up from the Mary Jane Area. Hiltop hade excellent views and is about 1000 feet higher than Kyle and Fletcher campgrounds. Since it was Sunday night we had no problem finding an excellent site in the shade. If you are ever there I suggest site number #21 despite not having a view it was fairly wind protected and had evening shade.

Monday we returned to the Roost and climb the namesake route (photo below). This climb, another lead bolted scare fest, was technical with bad falls on sharp rock. The movement and hold variety was classic limestone and excellent if you could move past a fear of falling. This climb had deep runnels and great pinches. I found the crux to be a tricky bit of stemming after a good rest about midway through the route. While this did not function as a good mental warm-up it got the blood moving and allowed me to focus on harder routes. First up was an onsight attempt on a route that had been occupied the previous day. After a bunch of tricky climbing I gave up a foot below a hidden jug. Lack of commitment and a bit of memory loss left me hanging but with no regrets as I made my way to the top I encountered a much more beta intensive crux that would have blown the onsight. Next go, much more relaxed, I sent Bubbleicous.


Lizzy was in the projecting mood and jumped on Los Banditos, an 11c that she had done clean first try on TR the day before. This would be her first of the grade and over the day she made excellent progress. Between my attempts on different routes she gave this route three good burns and on her final try fell one hold below jug at the end of the crux. She made good progress with each try and feeling fresh on our next visit I think this climb is within her reach.

I attempted some of the classic harder routes in the area but was stopped by tricky beta, fatigue and altitude. Leaving tired we made the journey back to San Diego happily avoiding Vegas rush hour. Despite a lack of hard sends I feel the weekend was quite satisfying and have a new respect for the complexity of limestone. I am excited to go back, since according to the locals you can climb there all summer.

– Luke

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