Summer Catchup: Pine Mountain Pulldown and Mt. Woodson

30 09 2009

This summer was jam packed with  fun climbing including many trips to the Sierra. These long days on the mountain stand at vast contrast to some of  the more chill weekends that are swept up in the fray. I wanted to share a few photos that I didn’t get to post back in August and earlier in September.  One missed weekend Julie and Josh came down from LA to do a bit of crack climbing 101. The easiest place for this is Mount Woodson, which has a mix of boulders with nice cracks and top ropeable mini routes. We lucked out with cool weather in August and had a great day touring some of the classics like Robbins Crack, Jaws, Baby Robbins, Lie Detector and more.


A very proud TR onsight 😉 of Eric’s Face.

In addition to learning crack technique Lizzy made the most progress I’ve ever seen on Lie Detector, which is a desperate 5.12+ thin fingers seam. A series of 5 or 6 nearly footless moves pull over a bulge to a much easier 5.10 section. Lizzy was able to stick the first three of these moves for the first time proving her summer of climbing returned good fitness. Without the advantage of Lizzy’s fingers I was barely able to do the first move, figuring out some crazy beta requiring a precise deadpoint to a poor lock… Maybe next time!

Woodson - Aug 09 - 042

Working on an interesting arete variation Josh came up with.

After tiring of crack climbing Josh and I played around in one of the caves on this tricky problem. In addition to the established line seen in the next two photos we tried a variation or eliminate that followed the arete. It was fun but neither of us could get past the poor slopers. Josh managed to avoid the camera so there are only photos of me on these problems.

Woodson - Aug 09 - 018

Starting up the cave/rail problem. (Originally graded B1 !)

Woodson - Aug 09 - 017

Too bad I missed the hold.

Woodson - Aug 09 - 045

Bouldering is hard…

At the beginning of September I attended the Pine Mountain Pulldown which was also a stop of the Reel Rock Tour. I was psyched for the combo of stress free bouldering and a chance to see the newest climbing films. Lizzy was able to catch a ride down from Palo Alto and  volunteered as a trail monitor on Saturday for the competition.  I was able to carpool from San Diego with Jeff and Keli who are very active in our local climbing community. The Pine Mountain Pulldown is set up as an environmentally responsible event and  partnered with our local advocacy group, Allied Climbers of San Diego, to minimize impact.  After a day of bouldering on Saturday I spent Sunday walking around the bouldering area, with Keli, Jeff and Lizzy, picking up trash and washing off offending tick marks as part of an Adopt-A-Crag event. To further reduce environmental impact the power for the event was solar and all of the competition climbers were bussed to the crag to reduce pollution.


On Sock Hop – V6  photo thanks to Jessica

One of the ACSD members, Adam Kimmerly, took a bunch of photos which can be found here. He also attended last year and one of those photos ended up on the poster of this year.  The following pictures are a subset of his shots from 2009.


Keli on a tricky slab (V5 without the far  left holds).


Robert, of the Vertical Hold Crew, on the classic Dissing Euros V6


Luke about to fall off a fishy V5


Colin, another VH strong man, crimping hard!


Gracie, a micro crusher from Fresno, showing the boys how its done.


Luke uses some alternate beta on the same problem.


Keli, with Jeff spotting, on her way to second place in the women’s division!


Luke gets yet another handful of Mojo bars thanks to the Clif Bar booth!




A Lesson on Offwidths: Climbing Mt Conness and Pratt’s Crack

25 09 2009

Sometimes everything just works out. You get good weather, manage not to screw up the approach and have a perfect day.  This weekend the stars aligned, so to speak, and a great day was had climbing Mount Conness.

Typical to any outing, I did my research, read up about the Harding Route as much as possible and shot emails to friends who might know about the route. A recent thread provided a bunch of information and on Friday we were off. A bunch of traffic put us at Tioga pass after 10 pm,  taking more than 7 hours from San Diego.

Psyched that we are not lost and that it is light outside.

A long approach prompted a 4:30 am wake-up and we hoped our timing would land us at the cross country travel section just after the sun rose.  I gulped down some NyQuil to reduce the effects of a cold I was fighting and passed out. The dark morning came too soon and after applying sunscreen in the dark, ( a new favorite activity) eating some food and repacking we were on our way. We re-parked the car near the Sawmill Campground on the side of the road, hoping the lack of No Parking signs was adequate permission. Finally we were on the trail by 5:30 am.


The beautiful Conness Lakes.

The start of the approach is on big trails before we had to cut off across more rugged terrain. Since the approach seems a bit confusing  I made an earlier post with photos showing how we hiked in. In no time we had passed the Carnegie Institute and were trying to figure out when to leave the trail. An alternate approach, shown in the Supertopo for the North Ridge,  requires a few more miles of hiking but goes past the Conness Lakes seen in the photo above. It seems that if time was not an issue this approach would be very pretty alternative.

The initial mile or so of hiking was by headlamp until the morning light flowed into the valley. The air was brisk and I used a trick I had heard attributed to Ray Jardine to stay warm. I am a sweaty hiker so stay dry in the cold wind I reversed my jacket so the back was open and the front still protected me.  This worked really well despite looking a bit funny…


Goofing around as the sun rises.

At the end of the steep switchbacks, that I am hiking up in the photo below, we took a break to catch our breath in the thin air. We were in no rush and  I was trying to be careful with my exertion due to being sick.  All of a sudden two more climbers came up the trail, who we hadn’t seen, and passed us  on their way to the South West face.  Our attitudes dropped a little since we wouldn’t be first on the route but we took it in stride and relaxed even longer to give them some space.


On the steepest section of the approach

A little while later we were on our own again since we had to stop and rack up for the decent. Meanwhile the other party, who had slept near by and already had their harness on, continued down to find the descent gully. The wind was howling across the plateau below the summit so we both decided to bring an extra warm layer on the climb. In an attempt to stay light and fast we decided against a back pack and stuffed food in our pockets.  With a liter of water on each of our harnesses Robb and I switched into our light weight shoes.  Robb in his Deascents and I in my Sanuks made our way to the base of the route via a steep but reasonable gully. We looked for the other party but they were no where in sight and I assumed they were hidden by some rock feature.


The first few pitches, as we climbed them, on the Harding route of Mt Conness.

Our excitement grew as we got closer and closer to the massive Southwest face. The other party was no where in sight and we would have the first crack at the route! Some how they had gone too far and added another mile or so to the approach. The first block was mine and I started up the dreaded first pitch. This pitch is supposedly always wet or running with water and hated by many. I lucked out with only a few damp holds and kept going with our 70m rope to link into the second pitch.  After pulling through the awkward crux on the second pitch  I quickly ran out of rope and had to make a belay as Robb took me off belay and simuled the first ten feet.  Our second pitch linked to a ledge at the top of a chimney before the main offwidth. I think I was about ten feet short of the standard belay but yet again ran out of rope…


Leading up the first pitch. Luckily it was not too wet.

Despite wicked cold on the first part of the descent the route was warm and we quickly peeled off fleeces and tied them to our waists. We both cursed our over preparation since added weight = less speed. Robb, giving me his shoes, fleece and jacket now took over the lead for the crux offwidth pitch. This was the physical crux of the route even though it was graded lower than the second pitch. Robb made good progress figuring out a tricky stem that allowed him past the first 7″ crack. Our #6 C4 was very useful for this section and Robb also clipped the many ancient star drive bolts that Warren Harding had placed on the First Ascent.  You can check out the crazy ring pin hangers in the photo below.


An old bolt at the belay after the offwidth pitch. Photo from  Summit Post


A psyched Robb after sending the famous offwidth pitch.

After we had both sent the offwidth Robb had another exciting lead with a tenuous face traverse and a steep section of climbing before entering the final chimney. I was happy not to  have a pack when I followed this pitch and even put all of my jackets on since the wind had picked up. At the top of this long pitch we switched leads and I led the last 5.9 pitch. With Robb’s long chimney lead, which linked two pitches, we had finally speed up a little and were distancing our selves from the other party who had been making good time.


My favorite photo from the weekend which captures a bit of the alpine splendor.

I really enjoyed what was our 5th pitch, photo above, with many crazy flared cracks that demanded balance and good footwork. The wind really started blowing as I got higher on the pitch and communication was impossible. Finally I reached the 3rd class ramp listed on the topo and set up a very exposed belay, constantly buffed by wind. Thankfully Robb followed super fast as I struggled to pull up the rope at the same pace. Robb moved the belay to the top of the 3rd class ramp to escape the wind a bit more and I climbed the final corner to the super easy summit ridge.  I likely could have belayed higher on the ramp but couldn’t hear Robb to know how much rope was left.


Team Orange Helmet Summit photo.  I think our angles are a bit off… (see

We un-roped on the easy terrain at the top and made our way to the summit. Moving quickly over the low angle rock, we could both feel the elevation, a first for the day.  Amazingly two other teams showed up at the 12,500 foot summit at the same time for a little party. A couple had just done the West ridge and a soloist had climbed the North Ridge. Congratulations were exchanged all around, at a summit photo was taken and we signed the register. 3:30pm was the current time and we had been on route for about 6 hours.  A quick decent down the summit ridge put us at our packs and in no time we were descending back to the car.


Robb at the Carnegie Institute realizing we were going to make it sub 12 hours C2C.

Somewhere along the hike down Robb got really excited when he noticed that it had been less than 11 hours since we left the car. A bit of calculation later and  we placed bets for total Car to Car time. We managed not to get lost on the cross country decent and hit the main trail around 4:20pm which put us back at the car just before 5pm for an amazing 11:35 hour time. Despite being slow on the first three pitches we did a good job using as much of the 70 meter rope as possible and did the route in 6.5 pitches which includes a half pitch for moving the belay up the 3rd class ramp. We likely could have simuled the last 2.5 pitches but Robb was moving so fast as a second that we might not have gained much time. Overall an amazing day and a super classic route!


Ready for some MORE offwidthing at Pine Creek

With more weekend left we camped Saturday night at Pine Creek to set us up for a Sunday of cragging. My previous visit had ended in rain and I had not the chance to climb Pratt’s Crack. After warming up on the comically named Becky* Route on the Mustache wall we moved on to the business. We were both psyched to lead Pratt’s Crack so I went first with all of our big gear. *(Unlike most of ‘Fred’ Becky routes this one is named for the route developers wife)


Getting ready for Pratt’s Crack!


Way too many cams since the crack grows larger than a #6.

Having three #6 C4’s was pretty novel but way overkill. A single #5 and #6 along with some finger sized cams and a bunch of slings is all you really need, as I noted on  The crack starts out #6 size but eventually gets too big and you must depend on your technique, the occasional chock stone, and a few small pieces in the back wall. I learned a bunch of squeeze chimney techniques and my TC Pros really worked well for the many heel toe jams that were required.


Gear, what gear… I’m going up!

The main reason Pratt’s Crack clocks in at 5.9 is the many face hold and occational hands free rest.  It was a such a fun climb that I decided to do it again. After getting to the top I pulled up a second rope and rapped cleaning the gear. This gave Robb a chance to lead it, which he did in great style and with a reduced rack thanks to my experience.


Are we excited for the wide?


Robb makes his way up Pratt’s Crack

I seconded Robb’s lead, so I could practice my chimney technique, and then we moved around the corner to the classic Sheila. While this climb may look a bit awkward it was super fun and had a very long, and awesome,  section of #2 camalots in a corner. These bomber hands were so good that Robb just kept running it out and ended up with a single set of .5 camalot and above on his harness when he reached the anchor. Both  layback cruxes were protected by little gear and he placed five cams green alien sized and smaller.


Robb at the first crux on the hyper classic  Sheila.

Sheila was a great way to finish off the weekend and we were happy with all of the awesome climbing and near perfect weather. It had been a bit windy the day before but Pine Creek was amazing in the shade with a nice cooling breeze. Hopefully I’ll return to Conness for the West and North ridges but it was great to tick off the Harding route. This trip also tempted me to start planning a trip up Keeler Needle to climb yet another classic Harding route. Some day!



Mount Conness Approach Beta

21 09 2009

It seems that the approach for Mt Conness can be a bit confusing so here are some photos with the route we took on our way to climb the Harding Route on the Southwest Face. This is the more direct of the two approaches from Saddlebag Lake and supposedly is about 4.5 miles long with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. It took us around 3.5 hours a moderate pace with a few rests. It took another 30 minutes to descend from the summit plateau to the base of the route. On our way back it took less than two hours from the true summit to the car.

This approach starts at the Sawmill Campground (near Saddlebag Lake) and I believe is the shortest distance to the top of Conness. From the parking lot hike out the good trail/road through the campground passing sites for a while. At some point the trail will narrow a little but stays quite good all the way to the Carnegie Institute.


Looking up hill where we left the trail.

About 15 to 20 minutes past the Carnegie Wooden Shed we left the trail and started the cross country travel. There were a bunch of cairns on the right side of the trail marking the general area you leave the trail.  The basic idea is to head up hill taking the easiest path towards the peak seen in the photo above and below. A bit of hiking  will lead to a clearing and you should be able to see something similar to the first photo below.


Looking up at the ledges from the first flat spot.


Looking back at the approach before going up the ledges.

Once you reach the  large flattish clearing you will be need to go up and over a set of ledges on the left side. There should be a faint trail and possibly the occasional cairn. This set of ledges will lead you to another large flat area that should have a small lake (size depends on season).  From here there seemed to be two options to gain the steep slope that leads to the summit plateau.  On the way in we stayed north (the right side looking uphill)  of the second and bigger lake and followed the red path in the photo below. This had us going along the ridge which was fine. On the way back we went on the other side of the big lake seen in blue below. Both paths met up in the meadow near the smaller lake and went over the 3rd class ledges in a photo seen above.


Looking down at the approach from the steep switchbacks

Our approach followed the ridge seen below to some steep switchbacks which ended at an obvious notch.  While the switchback section was a bit steep there was a trail most of the way and you could tell this section had seen a bunch of traffic. It is pretty hard to get lost if you aim for the notch in the photo below.

The very pretty ridge line with a steep drop on the right.

Below is another view of the ridge approach from the steep switchbacks.  After gaining the notch at the top of the steep switchbacks you will be at a large plateau below the summit. This was the first time we could see the summit of Mount Conness from the approach. We had only previously seen the lower section of the North Ridge. Cross the sandy plateau and you should see a large cemented cairn and a few wind breaks with more cement and some USGS circular markers. This is where we left our packs and racked up for the climb.

Almost to the notch after a bunch of sandy switchbacks.

From this point continue down to either the  second or third gully (I don’t remember which).  As noted in the Supertopo don’t go down too early since the first gullies cliff out.  Also you should be able to see the SW face in full view from the top of the gully. There is a trail, that should not be followed, that keeps going down past the correct gully so if you go more than 5-10 mins from the edge of the sandy plateau you have gone too far.  A few 3rd class sections lead to scree surfing and talus walking towards the Southwest face.  The photo below was taken from the approach.


The First few pitches, as we climbed them, on the Harding route of Mt Conness.

As described in the Supertopo the route starts just right of a section of black rock which is often wet.

Good Luck!!

– Luke

Pushing the Limits at the Needles

18 09 2009

After many months of great climbing my body is feeling very fit and I have practically recovered all of my strength from the end of 2008.  My crimping power is coming back and my left pinky is relatively pain free. I find a big mental advantage is added when one is feeling strong and powerful. I am more willing to try hard and the extra 10% makes a bigger difference.  I had a big dose of fun Labor Day weekend at the Needles, committing to a few routes that I have thought were too difficult to try in the past.


Looking at the Witch with the three points of the Warlock in the background.

One of the biggest things I deal with in climbing is fear. Fear of failure, fear of falling and fear of not knowing what to do. The more years I climb the more I realize how important a positive and relaxed mental attitude is. There is a time when you need to be able to turn off the brain, control the fear, and just go for it.  I tuned into this mental state this weekend a few times and was happy with the results.

Living further apart now, Lizzy and I made some magical carpool arrangements and both got rides to the Needles. This was pretty weird for us since we had to plan according to others schedules instead of doing everything in Luke and Lizzy time. This worked out well and we had a blast making new friends and hanging out. There was a big crew from San Diego in addition to the many Bay Area climbers that Lizzy came with.


Relaxing on Labor Day in the windy Sorcerer – Witch notch.

I drove out with Robb and Lindsey and Labor Day traffic coupled with a slightly slow  route put us in after midnight.  Even with a late start there was nothing to stop my psyche!  Our normal Needles procedure is to bring out our big climbing packs the first day as well as a small climbing pack. Then the next days we only have a tiny day pack for the 3 mile hike in. This makes it much easier hiking wise and you only have to carry all the gear in and out once.

Saturday was the most crowded day and there were people on all the classic routes. My two main goals for the weekend were Spook Book and Atlantis with some other harder routes lined up if we somehow made quick work of the two main objectives. I had read that the first pitch of Spook Book was pretty serious so Atlantis seemed a better way to get re acquainted with the rock. There was already a party on the route so I waited a while before launching up.


Starting up the unusual first pitch of Atlantis.

A bit of mistiming on my part coupled with some goofing around by the other party and I was biting at their heels for much of the climb. I’m sorry if this approach harshed their mellow but I wanted to do another route after Atlantis and thought they would have been moving a bit more quickly.

Another memorable photo from that I saw many year before I  heard of the Needles.

I linked the first two pitches and got my head in gear for the crux pitch.  The moves are hard right off the belay and its good to just keep laybacking until an obvious jug. This puts you a bit far out from your first few pieces (placed from the ledge) but seemed ideal for sending. I pasted my feet and made it to the jug, placed some gear and kept going  amazed how pumped I was. Sticking the final sloper crux felt awesome since I had seen a dude whip off the same more a year before. Lizzy was able to follow clean and this put us below the last pitch. I opted to do a dead end variation, Lost at Sea, since the other party was still on the final pitch. Lost at sea offers some more laybacking with an exciting hand traverse at the end. The finish is just mental since the flake gets so thin I doubt a cam in the last 10 feet would hold a fall.


Getting high above the gear on the crux pitch of Atlantis.

Photo thanks to Darshan

After lowering back to Lizzy, having sent the variation, I was ready for the final pitch. Some exciting laybacking past some dubious gear gained a ledge and a final cruxy corner. The climbing in this section was phenomenal as I stemmed my way up slapping the right arete which had perfectly sculpted holds. The crack was more or less pinched out so I was crimping on the lip working my way up. The granite was just sooo good! A final reachy move and I found my self mantling the top ledge,  totally psyched to have sent Atlantis without falling.


Josh making the crux throw on Pyromania


Josh Higgins  sticks the dyno!

Lizzy was pretty tired after Atlantis but I was able to hook up with Josh Higgins, one of the many friends who were at the Needles from San Diego, for a final climb.  Josh had been projecting Pyromania and had finally redpointed the climb a few weeks before. In his normal no big deal attitude he decided it would be good to run another lap on lead. With one cam less than normal he fired the route cruising the first dyno crux and keeping it together though the super endurance undercling finish.


Working towards the powerful undercling  finish.

I had never tried a 5.13 trad route before and was curious how I would fare. In my mind there are 3 crux sections with a few other hard moves thrown in. The hardest move of the route for me was a tricky dyno. On my many attempts I couldn’t snag the jug, coming 3 or 4 inches short and couldn’t quite work out the alternate traverse beta.  The finish is quite strenuous with very tricky moves as you undercling a thin flake that makes a leftward arch. The body positions were so strange to me but once the flake became more horizontal I made good progress and made it across. I think with some effort this could be a doable project IF I could stick the dyno…


Luke gives Pyromania a burn 😉


Luke stares at the high first bolt on Spook Book.

Sunday was a bit of a late start since we now had a full group. Julie and Josh had arrived midday on Saturday and met up with us at the end of the night.  I convinced them to stick around on Sunday and I lucked out with the awesome photos of Spook Book.  I was pretty scared of this route since I had heard stories about the runouts and even my friend Stein had taken a nice long fall on the second Pitch.


Committing to the crux on the first pitch of Spook Book.

The main idea is that you make a nest of gear and then with no hand holds get your foot up on this big knob. Lizzy made this look casual with a hand foot match but I had trouble committing to the left foot smear. I yelled with joy when my right foot got on top of the knob and I was able to clip the first bolt. While I had placed 3 pieces I was not sure if they were high enough to prevent me from cratering into the granite slab below. Lizzy, aware of my situation, was ready to run down the slab to try and keep me from hitting the ground.  While the following knob mantels were harder I was in a better mental zone and onsighted the first pitch.


Balance and stand up on your feet with no hand holds! A typical move on pitch one.


Figuring out the final moves before  the first belay!

The next pitched involved very cool stemming, smearing and arete moves up a mini dihedral. I placed a ton of small nuts which were too bomber, causing Lizzy some trouble when she cleaned the pitch. I thought the climbing was neither crazy hard or run out and I had a bunch of fun. I did however run out of slings so I was unable to link this pitch with the next one, which was much easier. After the easy pitch which was rated 5.8, though some of the moves off the belay felt almost 5.10, I got psyched for the final hard pitch. As with the 2nd pitch the 4th was quite sustained with no really hard moves. I think 5.10d is fair with every move round 5.10+ making conservation of energy really important. I took my time slowly onsighting and spacing out my gear over the 150 ft pitch.


Lizzy easily does the scary stand up move on P1 of Spook Book aka Welcome to the Needles


Lizzy gets past the many knob cruxes and into a relaxing layback.

The final pitch was really cruiser as the crack opened up and the angled slabbed out towards the summit. I made a belay as high as possible and sprawled out in the sun to belay Lizzy. The first pitch had likely been one of my more bold onsights to date. Before committing I had down climbed to place another piece or two before going for it. I was just on the verge of down climbing all the way but I knew I had to try. Standing on the smear was not that hard technically but mentally it was difficult to not have any hand holds to pull on when I was far above my gear.


Luke leads off on the amazing and thin second pitch.

Five pitches was a good day of climbing and we decided to head back early instead of getting benighted. Our friends Robb and Lin had hiked back in the dark the day before so we opted for dinner and beer. This was a pretty mellow day and I was really happy to have climbed Spook Book. It’s interesting how sending projects can really drain motivation. I was so happy to have survived that I didn’t want to put my self out there for failure…


Robb leads up Atlantis with while a chilly Lin belays

When Lizzy and I showed up on the final day Josh Higgins was in the middle of his onsight of Scirocco. The wind was blowing but he was calmly making his way up the arete. I do not have the cajones to try and lead this route yet but I had been itching to climb it. Josh braved the 20+ foot runouts and clipped the anchors while I frantically made my way down from the notch to give it a go on TR.  Sirocco is a Needles classic and when Tony Yaniro did the first ascent he decided to make a statement with the 15 and then 20+ foot gaps between the final bolts.


What a beautiful route!

Without a warmup the first steep crimp moves were shocking and I took a few times in the “first pitch”. The climb is usually done by linking the two pitches to provide a more continuous experience. The hardest moves are all in the first section and involve technical crimping. I really enjoyed the climbing and it would have been even better after a warmup and without the flash pump.  The second half of the route changes dramatically as the holds blank out and you move onto the arete. The sequences become much less secure as you slap up with you left hand some times smearing both feet on nothing.


Lizzy straddles the summit after climbing Lady of the Needles.

My left arm was getting terminally pumped and my mind could barely wrap around the technical moves. About a third of the way up the arete I encountered the crux, a long sequence of slapping and squeezing with both hands on the arete with both feet trying to apply as much rubber to the wall as possible. This section of arete pinching was started barely above a bolt and moved past another bolt and  is well protected. However as the holds grow, post crux, the excitement builds as you work up the arete further and further from your last bolt. Mentally you hit a peak as you switch sides on the arete (very insecure)  20 feet above the previous bolt.   This pitch is brilliant and with a bit of work on body tension and commitment I plan on coming back to lead it.


Rob and Lin top out Atlantis.

While I climbed this route Robb and Lin went up Atlantis which was awesome. They sent and in the mean while I got sun burned and onsighted the very fun Tradewinds. This climb is similar to Scirocco but a bit more closely bolted and easier. It would be a good warmup since it is so close. With our energy running low Lizzy and I hiked up and climbed Lady of the Needles. This was a fun summit and a relaxing way to end the weekend. My ride, Robb and Lin, were still going on Atlantis so I lowered down and did a TR lap on Spooky. This is a must do route and while the offwidth section is hard and slick  the rest of the climb makes up for it.


On top of the Charlatan with the fire tower in the background.

I am very happy with the progress that we made this trip and how far I have come in the last year. I am very excited to go back and work on some of the harder routes including The Don Juan Wall, Ankles Away, Davy Jones Locker, The Raven and Romantic Warrior. There is still a full helping routes to do and I am psyched!



Sierra Adventures, an Attempt on Mount Langley

9 09 2009

As the summer heat reached near record highs two weekends ago I found myself shivering in the cold shade of the Northeast Face of Langley Peak. This summer I have taken a bit more time to explore the Eastern Sierra and this weekend was one of the most adventurous yet.  The goal was to establish a new route on the massive Northeast face of Mount Langley. Currently there is only one other technical route to the summit of this 14,054 foot peak.

Getting ready to hike in carrying a whopping 7 liters of water…

Langley would be my first 14er so I was super excited to try to climb it via a new route. Shay had a handful of maps and semi-useful descriptions that would guide us to our first bivy. The start of the approach was a familiar jaunt up to the Stone House. This trail was nice and Lizzy and I had been there about a month earlier.  We were apprehensive about water so we both packed maximum capacity, carrying almost 2 gallons each.


The stone house complete with new prayer flags to honor the passing of Bruce Binder.

Reaching the stone house we could tell that Tuttle Creek was still flowing strong so we dumped a bunch of water and set out to the unknown. Shay and I had been to the Lone Pine Peak side of the Tuttle Creek drainage but never up towards Mt Langley. A bit of guess work lead us up to a trail behind the metal shack above the stone house. We took this across a big slope and eventually ran into a bigger trail. This well cairn-ed trail continued up hill for many miles and brought us to the Keyhole wall.


Really happy that we were able to follow a trail all the way from the stone house to the Keyhole Wall.

Following the advice from previous ascensionists of Mt Langley, we crossed the stream and headed up the talus making sure that our water source was still flowing. Eventually the sound of the gurgling stream died out and we bivyed 10 minutes or so above where the creek went underground.  On our descent we realized that we could have camped over an hour further but likely at the cost of a good nights sleep. The stream had  gone underground for a half mile or so and appeared in full force higher up the drainage.


Shay looks sharp as we trek on past the Keyhole wall.

Leaving from Pasadena by 10:30 am we made great time to Lone Pine and up the trail to our bivy. There was still daylight but it seemed prudent not to go too far above 10,000 feet. Fresh stream water was easily retrieved unfiltered due to our remote location. A dinner of packet food was sufficient and we opted for an early bed time due to our impending pre-dawn start.


Looking back down canyon from our bivy.

The ridge in the following photo was visible from camp and  our information led us to believe the north face was just around the corner. Hiking up endless talus warmed me up but as soon as dawn broke the wind started and chilled me to the bone. I had to layer up,  very unusual for me while hiking, and we made our way up trying our best to guess the right way.  We second guessed our decisions and likely lost a bit of time traversing a steep slope instead of staying low in the main gully.


Our first look at Mt Langley

Beyond finding the NE face we needed to spot a doable climb and get to it as fast as possible. There was only so much day light and this 2000 foot face would require a lot of pitches. Around the right of the prominent ridge we spotted what looked like a 500 foot long crack system that would give us access to a higher ridge line.  At the time I assumed all of the towers connected to the top and when this route looked too chossy we too easily decided to climb another line.


The wind was killer and I was happy to have a jacket.

We found an easy looking crack system that appeared less choss-tastic and I started up the pretty green and yellow granite. Leading in my jacket with a pack was a bit tricky at first but once I got a few pieces in the climbing started to be fun. I had to be careful of small foot holds since they often were barely attached but I slowly made my way up to the ledge below a wide crack seen in the upper right of the photo below.


The start of the tower we chose to climb.

Shay had the next pitch and decided not to go up the wide crack. We only had a single #3 and the largest BD hex. His lead followed a chossy pair of seams which took the occasional gear and then traversed right to the crack above the offwidth. This was low end 5.10 but very scary and insecure especially with cold fingers on even colder rock.  The next pitch was mine and featured the hardest climbing of the route. I was faced with  splitter finger crack providing the only passage to the top of the next tower.


Heading up the fun first pitch in chilly weather.

I did a bit of cleaning to get out the lichen and loose rock, down climbing to the ledge each time, before committing to the finger splitter. The locks were excellent and the feet exciting (i.e. a bit loose) as I slowly made my way up. It was over before I knew it and I was hugging a leaning pillar making my way past many loose blocks to the next ledge. I saw a scary looking next pitch and happily belayed to give Shay the next lead.


Shay leads an exciting ridge traverse! Notice the awesome slung  pro…

Shay gets bonus points for the next  lead with crazy exposure on both sides of the ridge. He climbed about a 60 meter pitch requiring a bit of simul-climbing on our short 48 meter rope. I took the next pitch and downclimbed into a chimney, which was semi bottomless with 300 feet of air on my left. Squeezing behind a leaning flake our Nuts somehow detached from my harness and fell into the void.  I continued with some easy downclimbing into the gully below.


Shay on top of our tower before downclimbing into the gully.

From this position we could see choss and snow going up towards the summit. Our tower had not connected to a main ridge line and the rock above didn’t look to inviting. We decided that it would be best to descend since the gully we were in seemed reasonable. In retrospect we could have climbed back up on to the ridge line but it would have been at least another 15 pitches to reach the summit. We had gotten a bit of a late start (climbing wise) and it was already noon so we took the safe option, not wanting to get benighted.


Luke descends back to the base.

With 5 new pitches established it wasn’t a waste of a day and we took our time back to camp. We found the upper part of the stream and hiked down past pretty waterfalls and surprisingly lush vegetation for the area. After some more rest at camp we packed up and relocated to the Keyhole wall. Our next bivy site was not as spacious and level but was a bit closer to the stream and had a beautiful boulder with sculpted holds that I happily climbed.


The NE face of Langley showing our route, Unstoppable Tower Tango,  on a disconnected ridge.

We hoped to do a bit more new route action on Sunday and choose the obvious splitter on the left side of Keyhole wall. We knew it had most likely been climbed but hoped to find otherwise.  Shay lead the first pitch following good rock to a nice belay. There were just enough loose blocks and lichen to make us think we were in FA mode. We swapped leads and I headed up towards the roof, the feature that drew me to this climb.

After trundling a few blocks I got into a very nice hand crack and motored up to the roof, running it out a little to save my single #3. At the bottom of the roof I was able to place a small cam and then wiggle the #3 deep into the fissure. A #4 would have fit perfectly on the outside (which had better rock) but we didn’t have one.


A topo of the our  new finish variation (pitches 4-8)  to Somnambulist

Some how there were some jugs on the right side of the crack and I was able to pull over without OW technique. I heel hooked and then mantled the ledge to get established, taking time to bump along my #3. I had cleaned sand out of the holds and fully believed I was the first one up this crack!! To my great disappointment after the next few moves I saw a pair of bolts. This made things much easier for belaying but ended the possibility of an FA.


Psyched to pull over the #4 camalot roof. 5.8+ ??

Shay lead the next pitch, a long fun splitter, to another bolted belay where we considered rappelling. I did not want to lose any gear, since we didn’t have the required 2nd rope, and opted to keep going into unknown territory.  I incorrectly choose to go left and had a sketchy loose lead on really bad popcorn granite. I had to excavate placements and wasn’t sure anything would hold. This lead and the next were most likely new pitches but  forgettable. Fortunately  they allowed us to reach a nice shady belay below the upper head wall. It was my lead again and I was in for some adventure.  The next pitch was the the best on our finish variation and the rock quality was awesome. I followed a nice splitter for 20+ meters before it pinched off and I traversed right onto a knobby face. A bit of creative climbing put me into a wide crack and a few moves past trees had me starting to think about a belay.


Climbing the excellent 6th  pitch on the upper headwall.

My gear was running out and I had to downclimb a little to back clean and re-place a piece. The cracks on the right side were pinching out and I didn’t know what to do. There were a handful of large bushes/trees about 20 feet above me and I knew that should be my belay. With a solid piece above me I stepped down and left to get my feet in a wide crack, crimping on nothing with my hands. I spotted a line of knobs for my feet  and slowly traversed left, hoping they would hold my weight. Gaining a tree I made a few more easy moves and then was able to get in a good anchor. An amazing set of exciting traverses made this a standout pitch. Shay followed clean without the security of the last piece that had essentially given me a TR for the traverse.

Another pitch, some simuling and a bit of soloing led us to the summit and a long grueling descent. After following the gully down we took a risk and choose the left fork. This went down a ways and we did some sketchy downclimbing (we could and should have rappelled using a tree) before another split. Faced with a 30 foot drop we rappelled this time, missing an easy looking downclimb that we saw once we were down. A bit more down climbing put us at another split which we went right. This was our last gully and put us back to the ground. The descent took us between two and three hours and put two very tired climbers back at the base.

Amazing Indian Food filled us back with energy, courtesy of TastyBites, and we packed up and made a quick descent taking less than two hours to get back to the car.

I was impressed with the rock quality on the Keyhole wall and would like to go back with a bit more equipment and check out some of the lines on the face. Even if most of the crack lines have been established there are still many routes to do!



Sweet Gear Review: Arc’teryx R320 Harness- Light is Right

7 09 2009

Memorial Day was just around the corner and I was in need of a new all day harness. I had been checking out the Arc’teryx WST harnesses for the past year and wanted to wait until the new Black Diamond harness came out before decided which to buy.

When I started multipitching all of my partners and I had the Misty Mountain Cadillac and I enjoyed having the beefy webbing and the 6 gear loops. In an attempt to get a similar harness I bough the even larger Yates Shield which had more gear loops than I knew what to do with.  I used this harness when climbing The Vampire and Cloud Tower in 2008 but found it to be way too bulky. I tend to sweat while trying hard and the thickly padded leg loops left bands of sweat around my pants.

At $125 the Arcteryx R320 is a big investment for a harness  and I was unsure that it could really live up to the hype. I had gotten Lizzy a R-280 for Christmas and she had been fairly content with the fit and feel but didn’t like the gear loops.  One of my good friends had taken an R320 up the Nose and raved about the comfort. Living in a harness for three days sounds like a good test to me.

Smith Rock - June 09 097

Getting ready to take some falls on Pure Palm in the Lower Gorge at Smith Rock.

Racking up for Sheer Lunacy in Zion, I had a lot of cams on my harness and could feel their weight pulling on the thin WST webbing but I was still comfortable. As the day wore on the harness stayed comfortable and my only complaint was that the cams tended to fall in front of my leg.

Spending a week climbing in Smith Rock in June I took only my R320 and was very happy climbing both sport and trad. On the hot days I could wear the harness without a shirt despite the super thin waist band.  At Smith I hang dogged for an extended time, took falls and even climbed a multi-pitch putting the R320 through a full suite of tests. I still had an issue with the gear falling over my leg so I ended up switching the orientation of the front two gear loops.

Smith Rock - June 09 234

Leading up Wartley’s Revenge with a full rack at Smith Rock

In July and August my R320 accompanied me on over 40 pitches of alpine climbing in the Sierra on the Incredible Hulk and Temple crag. The harness still is looking new and I finally felt ready to give it a review. Switching the gear loops, (so the angle of the loop tilts back) makes the gear sit much better for trad climbing, in my opinion, and I can easily fit 12 quickdraws and a double set of cams.

One of the initial reasons I stayed away from the R320 was the fit.  For a 5′ 8″ male I have relative large legs but a smaller (~30 inch) waist. I had to buy a medium to get a comfortable fit in the non adjustable leg loops. When I pull the waist band all the way tight I still have a little bit of room. This issue does not interfere with my climbing so it has not been a problem.  I have heard that the waist versus leg size  issue could be solved by trying the women’s R280, which I should have tried on before buying the men’s version. If it comes down to fit I suggest looking at both models.

Incredible Hulk - July 09 238

Sporting the R320 while climbing Postitive Vibrations on the Incredible Hulk

Overall the R320 is amazingly light and does not hinder your movement. The design of the gear loops is a bit floppy since they are plastic over webbing instead of a stiffer molded plastic (used in Petzl and Mammut harnesses).  A strange thing we also discovered is that the size of the gear loops is proportional to the size of the harness. Thus Lizzy has less space in her gear loops on the extra small harness compared to my medium.

Darkstar - July 09 063

Getting ready to hike out from the Summit of Temple Crag. I had been wearing the harness for ~12 hours when I arriving back at the  base.

After around 100 pitches of climbing in the last four months my R320 still looks fairly new which was my biggest concern. I’ll make sure to either comment here or write another post to discuss the long-term durability after I have had the harness for a year. The only two problems I have seen,  on other R320’s, is that plastic part of the reversible gear loops can pop off.  I added a piece of electrical tape to prevent this from happening. As well the attachment point for the haul loop on a friend’s harness is getting pretty worn after a year or so of climbing. I expect this is due to abrasion on the back of the harness from climbing chimneys and descending from alpine routes.


  • Very lightweight and moves well with your body.
  • Comfortable to wear while hiking and descending from long routes.
  • Breathes well and is soft enough to wear shirtless.
  • Gear loops are reversible and large enough for a double rack of cams plus quickdraws.


  • Gear loops are somewhat floppy and the plastic can become detached.
  • Gear loops are proportional to the size of harness. The smaller sized harnesses have less room for gear.
  • Adjustable leg loops are only available on the A300a and the  X350a, the alpine WST harnesses.
  • Expensive: the R320 or R280 (women’s trad) are the middle of the range at $135. The S240 sport climbing harness is the cheapest at $99 and the alpine X350a clocks in at an astounding $159.

Feel free to leave questions or  comment about the Arc’ teryx WST harnesses.


A ‘Brief’ Personal Climbing History

2 09 2009

This post will be far from “brief”, but considering how much I could write about each route I consider personally significant, this is short. The feeling of a prized send, a realized dream or even a hard attempt is difficult to describe so I will give a simple overview of  my many years of climbing.

I come from an outdoorsy family.  My parents both ski-ed, were avid scuba divers and enjoyed the outdoors. Despite this I grew up with a funny concept of camping since we always road-tripped in a ’78 Chevy van that my dad had converted to have a bed and a special sleeping spot for me. I remember the first time I saw a tent and was confused about what it was for. I had my special fort in the van where I slept, and I had never camped ‘outside’.


Too cool, wearing cutoff Gramicci’s and wearing Oakleys…


On one of the many “solos” at Marymoor. I often wouldn’t touch the ground for an hour  or more.

In middle school I was not as outdoorsy as the other kids despite going on various hiking trips around Washington. I became a bit more “normal” in 8th grade when I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and climbing indoors at Vertical World in Fremont (before it was torn down to create the Adobe Complex). After 8th grade I was pretty hooked on indoor climbing and my dad and I almost built a climbing wall at our house.

Before going to high school I took a 3 week Outward Bound course in Oregon. We spent a week rafting the full Deschutes River and then spent. Two weeks learning how to mountaineer (use ice axes) and eventually climbed the Middle Sister.  While I had been climbing indoors and on artificial outdoor structures Outward Bound was most likely my first real rock climbing. We top roped some easy cliff band in our La Sportiva Makalu’s and it was fun. We came back later that night with a full moon and rappelled down the wall exciting!

When ya gotta Aid you just gotta

Aiding up the Monkey’s Face on our 9 hour (yikes) 5 person ascent of the West Face Variation.

In high school one of my first friends was a climber and had been climbing for years with his father. Through my friend Hartley and the outdoor program at Overlake I slowly learned about climbing outside. During the summer I spent my time at Marymoor park bouldering, traversing and soloing on the climbing wall there.  I often would spend 4 days a week climbing still a bit oblivious to going to a crag to lead routes on my own.


The door to my bouldering success at Bucknell.


Our new routes board at the Bucknell Climbing Wall.

From junior to senior year in high school my focus on climbing shifted towards ultimate frisbee but I was still enthusiastic about the sport and upon graduation bought my first set of cams.  Until this point I had been climbing indoors on ropes and leading a bit of sport and trad outdoors but had never really bouldered. I did traversing and short boulder problems but I didn’t think too much of it.

The Summit!!

Gordon points to the summit of Tower II on our climb of the Yellow Spur

College brought about a big change in my climbing as I now had access to a small climbing wall on campus and could climb almost 5 days a week (seen above).  Due to the height of the wall we mainly bouldered and in the first month of college I went on my first outdoor bouldering trip.  My strength increased a lot my freshman year and my climbing took another big step when I ended up working at Vertical World in Redmond the summer of 2004.  My life was climbing and this year saw my biggest increases thus far. I went from V1 to V4 (indoors) and lead my first trad 5.9 (Godzilla at Index) sent my first 5.11b (Aborigine at Exit 38) and did my first 5.9 multipitch leading all the pitches (The Yellow Spur in El Dorado canyon). I returned to college much stronger and full of power.


Working up Five Finger Discount at the Red River Gorge.

Sophomore Year went fairly quickly and my sport climbing was taking off. I broke further into 5.11 at the Red River Gorge and the Obed but my trad climbing was lagging. I had taken a few trips to the Gunks but had yet to make it to 5.10.  I climbed my first 5.10+ crack at the T-Wall outside of Chattanooga but couldn’t figure out the Gunks. I had been thinking of studying abroad and decided that going to Melbourne would be a great academic challenge and would allow me to go to “school” at Mt. Arapiles.


Flashing It’ll Never Fly at Mount Arapiles 23/24  (5.11+)

Victoria, the Australian state where Melbourne is located, has a strict trad ethic and taught me a lot while I was there. These 6 months of 2005 brought my trad climbing to a new level as I moved into 5.11 routes. I learned how to place gear faster and found the relaxed zone required for hard and runout routes.  A big mental change also took place as I learned to accept the local  standards for climbing style.

The route the changed my mind was a popular toprope on the Kitten Wall above the Watchtower Faces called Hard Nipples. At 22 (11b) this route was at my limit and after doing it clean on TR I wanted to lead it. The gear was beyond tricky and I was pissed that it had not been bolted. I steamed at my partner but he told me that since it was possible to be lead on gear, it should be lead on gear. A month or so later after leading a few 21s and 22s I realized the route was in my reach.  I toproped the route again and figured out the gear and was amazed that I could find something that would work.

New Zealand 05 - Mark 005

Way excited to be at Castle Hill!

The first boulder problem would have to be soloed to about the 20 foot mark but I knew I could do it and committed to the techy moves and reached the ledge. In when two cams and I started up the steep section. one more cam and then the crux. Grab a left hand pocket and make a full span right to a good hold. Reach back and plug a red TCU in the pocket and work up into a roof. A blind yellow alien above your head and then the final face crux. A few moves get your feet over the roof and then easy moves lead to a bolted anchor. I had sent and in doing so had changed my perspective on bolts and had done my first 22 gear lead!

New Zealand 05 - Mattie 102

Learning how to Mantel at Castle Hill, New Zealand


Attempting my first 24 at the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia

Returning to the states I quickly lost my trad lead head but still had the power from the longest time of climbing I have ever had. I put this power to good use on a trip to Horsepens 40 in January 2006 and sent my first two V6’s and a V7.  Also on this trip while in the Obed I climbed my first 12a a long time goal that had evaded me in Australia despite doing my first 24 (5.11d) in New Zealand. From November 2005 until the 2nd week of January 2006 I had climbed almost 50 days culminating with a first place finish in Mens Advanced at my first ABS comp at SportRock.


Toproping my first 5.11 crack – at Mount Buffalo, Australia

Dirty South 06 - Gordon 447

Going for the crux deadpoint on Undertow (my first 12a) at the Obed.

Sadly all my my climbing and enthusiasm would start having consequences in 2006. Psyched to climb as hard as possible on an upcoming trip to the Red River Gorge I started intense campus training. The day after a session of two finger campusing I had pain in my left ring finger. I properly took a week off and slowly eased back into climbing with a month before my trip. Over the next many years my finger has given me varying amounts of trouble. I was able to climb fairly well at the Red River Gorge and returned to college psyched as ever for the next bouldering comp, this time the Mammut Gravity Brawl in New Jersey. My friend Adam and I had a blast but during the comp but I dislocated my right shoulder on a V7 that where I had campused into an Iron Cross and was trying to do the next move.


Hanging out at the Mammut Gravity Brawl after dislocating my shoulder.

Governor Stable Comp 06 - Luke 028

Hanging out and taking photos at Governor’s Stables.

My shoulder only partially subluxed and in 6 months I was climbing fairly well again and have since sent harder problems and routes than before the injury. The main thing that changed was my climbing style. I was no longer so willing to dyno freely and took a lot more time to think about the moves and make sure I would not re-injure my shoulder. This mental change brought with it a bit more hesitation and fear and still effects me today.


Flashing the classic Ro-Shampo 5.11d/12a at the Red River Gorge.

NRG Nov 06  - 119

Flashing Bourbon Sauce 5.11d at the New River Gorge

(My ambition to do this route was  inspired by a trio of women who sent it when I was at the crag 3 years earlier.)

After healing up and sending a handful of 5.12’s by the end of 2006 I turned my attention to bouldering for my senior year. I wanted to climb V7 again and worked on power. My crowning achievements from that year were The Bubbler V6 and Iron Lion V7 at Haycock Mountain.  After graduating and working on bouldering for a little while including a send of Blue Flame v7 at Tramway I switched back to roped climbing. The blue flame had taken many tries over two days and had done a number on my shoulder.

First day of attempts on Iron Lion V7.

Haycock 4-14-07 - 169

Many months later sending my hardest boulder problem yet.

Haycock 4-8-07 - 042

Loving the Triassic Diabase of The Bubbler V6

Climbing on routes I could still push my limits climbing 5.12 and didn’t have to worry about moves that were as taxing as bouldering. In 2007 Lizzy became my main climbing partner and we focused on sport climbing to train for a trip to the Red River Gorge for the Petzl Roc Trip. This training was very effective and Lizzy saw large strength increases and I onsighted my first 12a. At the RRG I onsighted another 12a and Lizzy flashed her first 11b.  Onsight climbing is tricky business and I was happy to have achieved another long time goal.

In 2008 we started the year with a lot more trad climbing and Lizzy attempted here first 5.12 leads at Indian Creek. By 2008 I had adjusted to the climbing scene in San Diego and found a strong and committed partner. During the summer of 2008 I stared to have real endurance and spent a bit more times on harder routes. I managed to climb my first 5.12c and 5.13a and turned my focus towards my super project Equinox.


Putting up a second wall in my training room back in Maryland.

Equinox as I have written in the past was the hardest project that I have ever attempted. When I first tried it I hated it soo much was entirely frustrated and uninterested. Lizzy persisted in her desire to climb the route and we spent many Equinox days out in J-Tree until in November when I finally did it clean on TR. My goal was an ascent with preplaced gear (which fit the remaining time in the J-Tree season) and I got it down to one or two falls on lead. One particular week my skin was particularly soft and I was trying so hard that I removed half of the skin from all my fingers. This put a dent in my schedule so we took some time to boulder and I came back full of power.  The day of my redpoint I barely made it out of bed not wanting to make the drive to J-Tree. When I sent,  after 3 false starts or failed attempts, the route fit together perfectly and I made it to the anchors with a mild pump but fully in control. This was an excellent ending to 2008 and I could not have been happier.

I had been taking steps towards climbing harder routes and my goal for 2009 was to develop more power and break into the 5.13 grade. Since Equinox had been my first 5.12 trad route I wanted to keep up with my crack climbing skills and try to progress on other routes in J-Tree. 2009 has been quite the wild ride since I have been injured since late January and have been unable to crimp well with my left hand. In recent months I have gained back fitness and had an excellent trip in Indian Creek with multiple 5.11 trad onsights. I was able to jam without harming my finger. Now in August I am starting to feel powerful again and have started campus training. Having done a few 12a’s quickly I think that I am ready to try some harder projects.

Since life is a bit up in the air I have yet to commit to a given route. My motivation in May was very high for a trip to Zion. I had one of my best trad climbing days with a 5.12 and two 5.11 onsights.  My motivation is currently on the Incredible Hulk where I had an amazing ascent of a variation of Positive Vibrations and then went back and onsighed the standard finish pitches.

With a strong showing this past weekend at Pine Creek, including a 5.12a onsight, I think that I may beable to make some progress in 2009.

Thanks for reading aren’t you glad it was `brief` 😉

– Luke