Rainbow Wall Approach and Rappelling Beta

30 10 2009

I hear that a lot of people get lost in Red Rocks. Often I will start wandering the wrong way only to have Lizzy call me back to the path. In the end it’s no fun getting lost and it takes a lot of time.  The Rainbow Wall is stunning and really not that far away. While it make take some people over three hours the hike should be doable under two hours with bivy gear if you don’t get lost.

One can either approach from Oak Creek or Pine creek. I am pretty sure the Pine Creek trail is shorter but it requires you drive in the loop road. This is the way we took so I will describe my experience.

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Starting out the hike from the Pine Creek Canyon parking lot.

If you have climbed in Pine Creek and done either the classic Cat in the Hat or Dark Shadows then the above photo should look pretty familiar. The small red capped tower/formation in the middle of the shot is named the Mescalito. You walk towards this formation passing three or four turn offs for nature walks, fire trails and other areas.  A good 15 – 25 minutes out from the parking lot there will be a homestead on the left followed shortly with a sign similar to the one in the photo below. This sign should have a leftwards arrow pointing to the Arnight Knoll trail. This is the trail you take to get into Juniper Canyon.

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Making the second turn.

One travels towards a ridge through some bushes and you will eventually encounter the sign above. It is pretty obvious but go left (the only real option).   This will quickly bring you to another junction where you stay left again. This is shown in the photo below. This left turn (the third from the main trail) will take you up a hill to the top of the aforementioned ridge which is really more of a plateau. The trail is pretty flat and you should make good time towards Juniper Canyon. Do not turn off this trail, trending up and right towards the entrance to Juniper Canyon. Be careful of the many types of cactus that line the trail.

Once you travel a ways across the plateau head towards the center of the canyon. The trail will split many times to the side areas, with Crimson Chrysalis and Cloud tower on the left. We stayed on the well cairned trail which led us up the right side of the canyon. Eventually you will work your way down into a wash which can be tricky to follow. Most of the way there are cairns but use good judgment to make upwards progress.

[Edit: So, Luke has oversimplified this a little, I think. The main idea here is that you start on official hiking trails – first the Pine Creek Trail, then the left turns get you onto the Arnight-Knoll Trail, then you stay right on the Knoll Trail when the Arnight Trail splits off, then you have to turn right-ish off the Knoll Trail to head into Juniper Canyon – if you stayed on the Knoll Trail it would take you to Oak Creek Canyon. As I recall, this turn is obvious and intuitive, but just realize that there is a point at which you go right, into Juniper Canyon, instead of bearing left (on the main hiking trail) across the plateau to Oak Creek. ~Lizzy]

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Make sure to go left and then up the hill!

After a ways in the wash the trail should get better and eventually head up a steep sandy hill. Make sure to follow the trail and stay a bit to the right. There is a well traveled trail after you get to the top of the hill. This will lead through some trees and eventually to a distinct Y with a cairn. This is the split for the Rainbow wall, left, and the Brownstone wall, right.  The left fork will take you to the left edge of the canyon where you can make good progress right next to a wall. Eventually you will break back into the wash and eventually come upon the slabs seen in the photo below.

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Roberto coming down the fixed line.

Hand over hand up the fixed line and make your ways up the slabs via the path of least resistance. We started up the left and did a lot of zig-zagging before finishing up the right side. At the very top you will need to stay right in order to get to the upper most ledge and the start of the Original Route. Ideally you approach to the base of Sauron’s Eye and the traverse left about 200 feet. There are two places to bivy at the base, one on a crazy stone pedestal and one in the sand directly below the base. There were a ton of bugs when we bivyed so I would suggest bug netting or buy spray.

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You top out here. The tree to the right of the rope has rap slings and biners. (Rap Photo 1)

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You make a short rap down to this tree. (Rap Photo 2)

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Just to the right of the tree, on a ledge, is a set of bolts! (Rap Photo 3)

Rappelling Beta for a 70 meter Rope.

Rap from a tree  (at the top of the final gully/pitch) with slings and biners (Rap Photo 1 above) or down climb ~50 feet of 4th and 5th class. This will get you to the  the bolts next to the dead tree in (Rap Photo 2 and 3 above).

From here you should definitely knot your ropes since you have to swing HARD to get back to the belay after the Red Dihedrals.  I had to swing way left and then back right to get to the belay. Since I was holding the rope I had to use my feet to grab the small foot ledge. Very close!

Next you can rap straight down on independent rap stations on the face.  Two raps will put you on the ledge about 40′ below the Red Dihedral and on the far side of the Over the Rainbow ledge.

Rap to a station on a small ledge in the middle of the face skipping an anchor about 25′ below the main ledge. From here rap again and with a 70m rope you will just make it to a ledge.

There was another rap anchor on the face that could be used if you have a 60m rope or don’t want to down climb. We opted to rap off the end of our rope and did  one easy 5th class move to get down to the gully/ledge with the fixed rope.

From the rap station behind a small tree rap the two 5.10 pitches. If using two ropes be careful of getting the knot stuck in the branches.

Rap each of the 5.11 pitches. Next to a bush below one of the belays there is a rope eating crack. I wedged a twig in here so our rope would not get stuck.

The final rap from the top of the blank 5.12 corner will require a short downclimb since it was about 40 meters to the ground.

Take a look at the photo topos below showing the rap stations that are mentioned.

60 meter Rap Beta

With a 60m rope I assume you would need to make an intermediate rap to the cave belay from the bolts next to the dead tree. From here you should be able to rap straight down to the Belay atop the Dihedrals and continue with the description above. It might be necessary to use one or both rap stations we skipped descending from Over the Rainbow ledge to the lower ledge.

Rainbow Wall - Upper Pitches

The upper pitches.

Rainbow Wall - Lower Pitches

The lower Pitches




Climbing Free While Having a Blast, a Weekend on El Capitan.

29 10 2009

Lizzy has spent almost two months in the bay area and I was due for a visit . We started off with a weekend with new friends in Yosemite where I was happy to redpoint my first Yosemite 5.12a, Underclingon. A bunch of fun was had sport and trad climbing at Pat and Jack’s Pinnacle before snow fell on Saturday night. Only the first weekend of October and snow already…

I spent the rest of the week reading, working from home, and sleeping – trying to recover from my cold which had flared back up. My friend Stein was flying in Friday morning so we could head to Yosemite to start working on Freerider, an easier free variation to the classic Salathe Wall on El Capitan.

It had been almost two years since I had been to the valley and I am quite a different climber.  These two weekends helped break down mental barriers and encouraged a go for it attitude. With these thoughts in mind Stein and I were at the base of the Free Blast at first light. Surprised by the warm weather I ended up climbing in a t-shirt all day.

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Stein starts off on the first crux slab pitch of the FreeBlast.

Despite warnings otherwise Stein and I enjoyed the Free Blast. The pitches had dramatic variety and pin scars were ever present. I made quick work of the first two pitches linking them and enjoying the glorious fingerlocks.  The next pitch was the first 5.11 crux and I made my way across and while searching for holds when my foot came off. A nice rope burn and a hidden hold later I figured out the crux move. I lowered and repeated it again, making sure I could do it again in the future. I linked this to the next pitch for a fun long romp of fingery fun!

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The pin scars require tricky pro.

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Looking up at the Big Stone after Stein climbed the first crux slab.

The tricky first slab pitch was Stein’s lead. Odd pin scars and tricky friction lead to a bolted slab that I’ve seen rated anywhere from 5.11b to 5.11d. Stein made good progress before coming off a bit over half way up the pitch. He worked out the moves and made it to the anchor. I somehow squeezed it out clean as a second, almost coming off at a tricky horizontal move shown in the video below. I was sliding off and Stein told me to jump for it. So I set up a crappy cross through foot and pressed right dynamically catching the next hold. Very cool!

Stein wanted to be sure he could redpoint the pitch at a later date so he lowered down and figured out the moves on TR (seen in the photo below and video above).  It was getting a bit warm but we still had another 5.11 slab pitch to go. This one is less sustained but with a very tricky move between the 5th or 6th bolt and a fixed pin. Stein fell on this pitch and I did too, but we both figured out the moves and continued up the route. There was no one behind us and we had all the time to relax and sort things out.

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Stein on the first crux slab pitch.

I was back in the lead and had a easy pitch to get up to the Half Dollar. We decided to link these two pitches to get us quickly to the Mammoth Terraces. This required a bit of simuling on 4th class and 5.8 terrain which is pretty reasonable. Some how I figured out the really awkward entry move into the half dollar chimney and onsighted the long ~250 foot pitch. On the Mammoth terraces we were almost done. Doing everything in good style we did Rock-Paper-Scissors for who would lead the downclimb to the Heart Ledges. Going first (on lead) was better than following since you would essentially be on top rope the whole time. I won, and lead down placing lots of gear to protect Stein. There was one tricky section and then I chose the wrong way and climbed down an awkward unprotected chimney. I didn’t want to have Stein risk a 20 foot ledge fall so I had him rap the fixed line which seems more logical. It was good to do the downclimb and I doubt we would ever do it again since it is pretty contrived….

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Stein the Ropegun, El Cap edition

We finished rappelling down the fixed lines having to wait for a few guys who were hauling. The lines were in fairly good shape and we only had to pass a few knots.  It was only about 3 or 3:30 but we decided to hang out so I could spend some time with Lizzy and relaxed at the base of El Cap. Lizzy onsighted the first pitch of the Salathe for her first 5.10c in Yosemite. Sarah Kate and I did a lap while Stein explored the base and saw Tommy and Kevin working on freeing Mescalito.

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On the Mammoth Terraces on my way to rap to the Heart Ledges.

The next day saw another pre-dawn wake up so we could climb the Free Blast again and venture as far up El Cap as daylight would allow. This day the route was super crowed with four parties of free-climbers and one aid team.  We were first to the base but a Swedish team, as mentioned in Stein’s post, showed up soon after. Had I known they were so talented I would have let them pass but there was no way to know and it’s awful to get stuck behind a slow party, especially if you arrive first.  The respective leaders redpointed the 5.11 pitches from the day before and we were soon below the Half Dollar. Despite moving much faster, the sun was in an awful place and the entry moves into the chimney were quite hot. I was tired and failed to figure out the tricky move again, opting to aid into the chimney and continue up.

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Stein pointing back down at the FreeBlast, after redpointing the slab pitches!

With the Freeblast behind us we rapped to the ledges and had a relaxing lunch around noon. The climbing had taken a lot less time and we were about to launch into the unknown. Feeling tired, I was happy when Stein volunteered for the first 5.11c pitch. He made quick work of the pitch, showing his crimping skills on the hard balancy slab. I was unable to commit with the heavy pack and aided the 11c move and freed the rest. We switched leads and I set off up the Lung Ledge. I was unsure where to belay and ended up going a bit too high. Stein was up the 4th class quickly and I was soon lowering down to the Hollow Flake. I was happy to exchange the hard leads for the first of the “Death Chimneys”. This section is a No falls zone since 8-10″ gear is hard to come by and heavy to boot.  On the advice of the Swedes, I brought two finger sized cams, one of which I placed in the singular small crack. This gave me horrible rope drag but prevented a swinging falling.

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The party ahead of us getting ready to lower down and pendulum to the Hollow Flake

The Hollow Flake was not too difficult but was not as secure as I as hoping. Due to the lack of protection and possibility of 50+ foot falls, I moved very slowly and wasted a lot of time on this pitch. Finally I made it to the top and we hauled the pack (putting a nice hole in the front) so Stein could climb gear free.  Without the possibility of falling, Stein climbed in about 1/3 of my time but still said it was quite strenuous.

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Stein crimps hard and onsights a 5.11 slab.

Even though I was exhausted, I wanted to keep leading to allow Stein to conserve as much energy for the Monster Offwidth.  After fooling around deep in the next chimney I remembered that its easier when its wider so I set off, no thought of placing gear, as far out as seemed logical. I made good progress and it almost felt 5.7 (well, not really). After skipping a few super hollow gear placements I got a hand full of pieces in and continued up the chimney. This was a mistake causing another loss of time. I was supposed to go on the face and climbed a likely 5.9 (Yosemite Sandbag) chimney requiring our #6 C4 as protection. I linked this to the next pitch and made it to the belay exhausted but happy with the onsight. Stein had no problem with the crack, stemming out at the right spot and was to the ledge in no time.

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Luke gets lost in the dark Chimney…

It was starting to get late and the wind had picked up. For the first time all day we put on our jackets and Stein took over the lead. The next pitch was one of the best of the day and started with some easy 5.10 before the angle steepened. There were long sections of 5.10+ laybacking – very cool features. Stein really had a blast on the nearly 60m pitch, skipping an optional belay/rap station in the middle. Realizing we were out of time, I left the pack and followed weight free. This was an amazing change of pace and I got to enjoy each fingerlock and bit of movement. The view was icing on the cake as the sun was dipping low in the sky.

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Ah the glory of El Capitan!

Darkness was coming and we were almost halfway up El Capitan. With two ropes we started rapping and noticed that a 70m rope would have worked as well. We got really lucky with the pulls and managed not to get our ropes stuck. There was also a fixed line from Hollow flake ledge to Lung Ledge that we used. This allowed us to rap really easily and I hope it is there in the future.  A 35m rap put us on the Heart ledges (but not at a bolted anchor) from the lowest Lung Ledge station. From here we took the now familiar fixed lines down to the ground. At the base by 7 pm, we had a full 12 hour day but had much success and Stein had not taken a single fall!


Luke looks up at the at the Monster Off-width

The next day we worked on ascending by going up the Fixed lines to Heart before driving back to the Bay and flying back to San Diego.  Our next trip will hopefully have us climbing the remaining pitches from the Ear to the top over Halloween Weekend. I am excited since it seems the best of El Cap is still waiting for us. Stein and I both enjoyed the last pitch which indicated the steep sections that are yet to come. I am a fan of steeper angles and look forward to a few more holds on the harder pitches.

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Last chimney of the day sent! Luke is excited but way tired…



Just Another Sweet Weekend in the Valley

27 10 2009

I first became interested in South by Southwest (5.11a, 5 pitches) on Lower Cathedral Spire when a dude from Colorado mentioned it when we were chatting at the Penny Lane crag in Squamish. He mentioned something about it being easy for the grade in the Valley (hey, if I’m trying to break into a grade, I have no problem trying the easiest objective first) and having red camalot hand cracks (RED CAMALOT HAND CRACKS!!!).

So I investigated – looked it up on MountainProject, checked it out in the guidebooks, and asked my personal climbing information guru, Luke, for info on the route. It sounded like a great objective – not too long, not too much hard climbing (but with good climbing on the hard pitches) and a spectacular summit. Even the long (at least by Yosemite standards) approach didn’t seem like too much of a negative because it would keep the crowds away.

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Looking down into the Valley from the approach hike.

I’d planned on doing the route with Luke the first weekend in October, but I picked up a nasty cold/flu the week before and was in no condition to hike far or climb hard. The following weekends, I climbed with Sarah Kate and we realized that we had a pretty good climbing partnership going – we motivate each other to try harder. When thinking of routes to do last weekend in Yosemite, we tossed around the thought of doing South by Southwest and realized it would be an awesome idea. Although we knew the crux climbing would be challenging, the rest of the route would be pretty relaxed for us. Plus, it’s a rare opportunity to climb a hard multipitch route with another girl, where you can swing leads and both feel like you’ve really pulled your weight on the ascent.

We awoke at 7am in our Lower Pines campsite, broke camp, ate some oatmeal, made sandwiches, and headed for the parking near El Cap Meadow. We discovered that Sarah Kate’s partner from Friday had forgotten to give all her gear back (some of which we wanted to bring with us), so we made a quick trip back to the campsite (where he was luckily still packing up) and then back to the meadow. With tremendous effort, we took off our jackets (it was chilly) and hiked briskly to the start of the approach trail.

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Looking up at the third (5.10d) pitch from the belay (you can’t see the crux section).

The approach was not as bad or long as we had expected (except for a short section of steep dirt when we got kind of off track) and we were at the base of the route in under 2 hours, including a short excursion further up the gully (slight confusion about which Spire was which). Sarah Kate said I could lead the crux 11a pitch (the money pitch) since I’d been psyched on the route for so long. This meant she would take the 10d boulder problem pitch.

We lead the first (Sarah Kate) and second (Lizzy) pitches without much trouble. Sarah Kate then lead a mini pitch to the base of the third (1od boulder problem) pitch. Then it was time for the business. A tricky 5.9 section brought Sarah Kate to the base of the 10d section, which was well-protected but a bit airy and mental (as soon as you commit to the pitch you get a lot of space beneath you). After some deep breaths and sequencing, she committed to the moves and sent to the jug and easier ground above to a small belay ledge. I followed, falling once at the crux when my feet kept popping (sadly, just a move below the jug), but then easily figured it out on my second try.

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Higher Cathedral Spire

Rest, water, Shot Bloks, and deep breaths at the belay, before setting off on the crux pitch. The first part was in a small, kind of awkward corner. We both felt the crux came before the “tight hands crux” in the topo, where there was a wide pod we had to thrutch past. But I made it to the start of the roof, rested, and set off into the undercling section. Magically, it did not feel particularly hard (the undercling was a jug and there were some decent feet). The rest of the pitch was fun, wild laybacking to a bolted belay on a nice ledge.

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Looking down at the fourth (5.11a) pitch.

Sarah Kate followed the pitch clean (awesome!) and we high-fived at the belay ledge – the hard climbing was below us! We exchanged gear and she set off on the final pitch to the summit. We ate our lunches huddled behind a rock (it was quite windy) before walking over to the true summit (no summit register 😦   ) to take some photos with El Cap in the background. It is a pretty sweet view from the summit. Two climbergirls, 5 pitches, 5 onsights, 1 fall, 1 gorgeous summit!

We rapped uneventfully and headed down the talus, ready for chips, salsa, and beer. We also chilled with a bunch of climbers at the Stanford Alpine Club campsite and Nina, Jeremy, Adrienne, Jeff, and Kelli, who happened to be camping two sites over.

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Lovely fall colors in the gully

In the morning, we were tired and sore, but still got up at around 8:15. We ate and packed up camp, then headed to curry for coffee/tea and decision-making about what to climb. After long deliberations and considering of soreness, we decided cragging at Reed’s Pinnacle would be a good decision. It was almost lunch time when we actually got there (after stopping in the meadow, then realizing we needed to go back and fill up water) but we were in no rush.

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El Capitan from the summit of Lower Cathedral Spire

We’d hoped to warm up on Ejesta (5.8), but two older dudes said they were planning on doing it. After considering their speed (not particularly fast), we decided to climb a 5.7 nearby. We then headed to the base of Lunatic Fringe (5.10c) to eat lunch and wait for it to get less hot up there in the sun.

Two guys showed up to do the route and I decided to let them go first (I was in no rush to climb in the hot sun), but I didn’t watch (I wanted to onsight it…). I started up the route, trying to conserve my gear (I still ended up backcleaning and leapfrogging some pieces because I hadn’t anticipated the gear size quite right). The last moves were a bit exciting, but luckily I had two yellow aliens, so it was quite well protected. It was Sarah Kate’s turn next and with a little beta and gear advice she was off. She cruised the route (even the top moves), hesitating only at a tricky off fingers section.

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Obligatory summit photo with El Cap

Afterwards, it was getting late in the afternoon and we were both a bit tired and sore, so we decided to call it a weekend and head home via Chipotle.

It was a pretty fantastic weekend. I think we both felt really proud of ourselves for doing South by Southwest together, because I think both of us have previously climbed harder multipitch routes only with guys, who tend to be the ones to lead the hard pitches. Both of us lead our hardest route in the Valley on South by Southwest and I think we really benefited mentally from not having the security blanket of a stronger partner. It was also nice for both of us to relax more on Sunday (especially Sarah Kate, who’d climbed all of Friday, too) because we’re so busy during the week that we don’t always get any time to relax. We were both psyched on sending Lunatic Fringe – definitely a very classic, fantastic route.


A photo essay from the Original Route on Rainbow Wall

25 10 2009

They tell me fall is the time for sending, the best climbing time of the year. Well now is October and the desert is starting to cool down.  With these thoughts in mind I drove to Vegas.

This past weekend I had the chance to climb the Original route on Rainbow Wall. This experience flowed beautifully as I embraced a feeling of relaxation and avoided nervousness. I talked my self up, filled my coffer with positivity, and went to Red Rocks to climb this great multi-pitch.

This would be my second 5.12 long multi-pitch of the year but I was unsure how I would fare. My friends, Josh and Stein, had loved this route and recommended it highly. They gave me tips and I set out ready to slay the beast. I had to stay psyched because deep down I still fear failure.  I have come to learn that failure is not absolute and can even be acceptable. This allows me to climb more freely and I am a better climber because of it.

Roberto and I managed not to get lost on the hike in, despite hiking the final section in darkness, and bivyed at the base. We were helped out by a pair of Czech climbers who were rappelling by headlamp. Their lights on the wall helped guide us up the slabs to our eventual buggy bivy at the base. We had no tent and were tormented by gnats and mosquitos throughout the night.

The morning was spectacular and we were climbing around 7am. The first hard pitches were stunning and I crimped my way up, reveling in the technical climbing. The cruxes were many on these two pitches and I marveled how face holds would appear at the perfect time when the crack seamed out.  We were making great progress as Roberto lead the next two easier, but still 5.11, corner pitches to finish the first hard block.  In no time we had climbed the next two 5.10 pitch, linking them, and simuled and then re-belayed to get to the Over The Rainbow Ledge.

Overcome by our excitement we forgot to stop and eat although it was just about noon. Roberto led the exciting traverse, no falls please, and set me up at the base of the Red Dihedrals. The next few pitches were the final crux and I was stymied by a baffling stemming move. I was not committed and could not visualize the sequence. After a quick rest I magically stuck to the wall, made the tricky reach and finished the pitch. The next dihedral pitch involved a bunch of grunting, foot slips, and honest hard work. A onsight was in the cards for me with enough holds to pull myself to the next belay. One more 5.11 pitch and an awkward 5.10 pitch put us at the top.  The sun shown brightly and I was quick to lose my shirt. We had been in the shade all day and it was at least ten degrees warmer at the top.

The quality of the rock and the climbing was excellent and this route is a red rocks Must do! I’ll write another blog soon with approach and descent info for future parties.

Enjoy the photos from our crazy journey!

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PB and J for life!

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The Rainbow Wall. So tall, so beautiful!

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First pitch completed, oh man this is going to be a good day!

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Two pitches down, Roberto’s turn to lead.

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A stunning 5.11 corner (P3 as we climbed it)

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Pitch four with the scary loose pillar in the bottom of the frame.

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A cool little roof at the end of pitch four. Belay bolts seen on the right.

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Luke starts up P4 with the ground slowly growing further away.

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Such high quality rock and  very nice to be climbing without a pack.

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Killer fingerlocks and laybacking.

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Roberto placing a TON of nuts while  linking the two 5.10 pitches, our P5.

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Enjoying early lunch and some  shoe free time at the first ledge.

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Thanks to hauling a mini-bag we had lots of food and water!

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Looking down at the spectacular final corner pitch of Cloud Tower.

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Roberto still grinning ear to ear on the traverse pitch, P8 from Over the Rainbow Ledge

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Still smiling on the first Red Dihedral Pitch, P9… I must not have realized the next move was the trickiest of the route.

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Luke almost done with the business on the sustained crux pitch (the 2nd Red Dihedral Pitch aka P10)

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I’ve seen this look before, must have just tried really hard!

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Roberto is still psyched and ready for the crux tenth pitch!

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Strenuous steep laybacking with poor feet. Wow!

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5.11 is nice after 5.12  Lets go UP!

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Wahoooo! Sweet stemming rest! Thank goodness for all the face holds.

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At the cave belay. Holy crap we are almost to the TOP!

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Summit was so warm! Oh man we made it!

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Wow! Original route on Rainbow Wall – 12 pitches, 2 people, only 1 fall .

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Looking out at Vegas after signing the Summit Log!

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Roberto going down the fixed line below the slabs.

What an amazing route. Still hasn’t hit me yet.  Can’t wait to go back  the climbing is SOOO good! Rainbow Country next time!!!

– Luke

The Awesomeness That is Columnar Basalt (Climbing at the Grotto)

20 10 2009

Last weekend, Sarah Kate and I both needed to do some work for part of the weekend, but we still wanted to get out climbing for a day. I LOVE LOVE LOVE basalt from my previous experiences with it (the Gorge at Smith Rock and Vantage in eastern Washington) and we’d heard good things about climbing at Table Mountain.

So we got an early start and drove out to the Sonora area. Although our guidebook only had minimal description of the area and approach, we managed to reach the crag pretty quickly after a couple false starts up trails that looked like climber trails but were, in fact, not.

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Columnar basalt!

We were psyched to drop down into the Grotto, which is kind of like a triangular pit with 3 walls of basalt, the awesomest one being the one with columns (and an upper tier of sport climbs on steep, blocky rock). We warmed up to the rock on Bandito (5.8), then did Table Manners (5.8/9) and Go With the Flow (5.9), swinging leads (one of us lead, the other followed, then switch for the next route).

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Sarah Kate leading Go with the Flow (5.9).

We were then feeling ready to hop on some harder routes, so I onsighted Three Fingered Jack (5.10b) and Sarah Kate flashed it. From that anchor, we could set a toprope on Snake Bite (“5.11b”). It turned out to be a lot easier than we expected (especially for the grade) and we both toprope flashed it pretty easily. I guess if you had really big fingers, it could have been a bit harder, but I think 11b is really soft for the route, especially compared to its neighbor Rawhide (5.10d) (more on that in a moment).


Lizzy leading Snake Bite (5.11b). Photo thanks to Maria Schriver.

We had wanted to hop on Rawhide (5.10d) next, but there was another group of climbers just racking up to start it, so after a little rest I decided to go for the lead on Snake Bite. My lead went really smoothly (despite the added complication of having the rope in the way of my thin toejams on the “crux” section) and made me think I should have been a little more confident and just tried to onsight the route. Sarah Kate was psyched enough after my send to get on the sharp end, too, sending her hardest trad lead outside of Indian Creek.


Lizzy making a cruxy reach on Snake Bite. Photo thanks to Maria Schriver.

By the time we finished on Snake Bite, the other party was almost done with Rawhide, so we chilled at the base waiting for the route. Continuing our spree of awesome sends (no fall days for both of us), we both flashed the route. The crux was a sustained section of ringlocks and fingerstacks that I found to be much more physically challenging than any move on Snake Bite.


Sarah Kate just after pulling the roof on Snake Bite. Photo thanks to Maria Schriver.

At this point, we had pretty much done every route (that we knew of) at the crag that didn’t involve clipping any bolts. Plus we were getting tired and hungry and I had to get up at 5am the next morning to do some field work for a class. So we decided to head home, by way of some excellent burritos at Chipotle.

Overall, we had a fantastic day. I love basalt cracks. We were a bit bummed that we’d pretty much sent every pure crack line at the crag (probably due to the small size of the crag and the fact that everything was on the slabby side of vertical, unlike the Gorge), but we’ve heard that there are maybe more trad routes at other Table Mountain crags and talked about possibilities for heading up to Trout Creek and the Lower Gorge at Smith Rock to check out more columns. We’re also psyched to check out the sport climbing around Table Mountain so we can have some projects to work on in the winter (i.e. the not Yosemite season).

Any other basalt crag recommendations? I’ve heard Paradise Forks (AZ) is good too…


Mega Milage Weekend or How I Laughed My Way Up Tahquitz

19 10 2009

The last weekend in September I was burnt out. I was still feeling sick, my shoulder issues were coming back but a few friends were on their way to Idyllwild and I had to rally.

Friday night put me at Tahquitz as I enjoyed the fresh mountain air and relaxed in evening light, content to climb a few easy routes. After returning to camp I enjoyed Tasty Bites and mashed potatoes before retiring to my tent to read the exciting Burning Down the House.

Waking up none to early the next morning we racked up for an epic three man ascent of the Vampire.  Jamie and Hartley had arrived a late’o’clock and after much reminiscing we all decided to go to sleep. I had climbed the route 364 days prior, and was psyched to have be doing it again with two of my original climbing partners. I was willing to lead any pitch but Hartley jumped at the sound of crack climbing and volunteered for the Bat Crack.

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Luke psyched to be climbing with old friends!

It seemed like we had Tahquitz to our selves as we took a relaxed approach to the Vampire. Hartley was just getting back to climbing  spending an equal amount of time climbing  in the prior month as the other eleven months of the year. Hart displayed true enthusiasm on his hardest trad lead, possibly ever, taking only a few times and falling once off the mantel at the end of the bat crack. Jamie followed first praising Hart for his lead, and I continued with  a huge grin on my face.

We switched over the lead to Jamie, with his crazy crimping skills, who quickly dispatched the 2nd pitch. Following first this time I soon discovered Jamie had climbed past the belay and sent the heady Vampire direct finish, continuing up a super thing flake to an exciting mantel finish. I was psyched to do this section of the climb, which was new to me, even though we had to rap back down a pitch to do the standard Vampire finish.

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Hartley works up the direct start to the Bat Crack.

As good friends do I pressured Jamie to take the next lead, of the third pitch, and he did. Despite a rest on the bolt he was able to figure out the crux move into the seam and finished up the pitch.  I had forgotten about this thread, started by a friend, and instructed Jamie to belay us up on the bolts that no longer existed. He diligently searched for the bolts before setting up a gear anchor and bringing us to the top where I looked extensively for the bolts with no luck. We walked down a little and found an old but usable looking rap station on a tree which required a short downclimb. A 60 meter rap brought us to another tree, midway up the Trough, with slings and rap rings. From here we rapped a full 70meters thanks to the double 8.1mm Beal Ice Lines. 40 feet of downclimbing brought us back to our packs.

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Luke and Jamie hanging out at the first belay of the Vampire.

There was plenty of light left in the day after our  luxurious lunch. All re-hydrated we were ready to rock and roll and I was happy to do some leading. A suggestion from my friend Robb had us heading towards the NW recess to climb The Consolation. To save time we all soloed the first 250 feet of 4th class and 5.0 to a nice ledge next to a tree with a bright pink rope rap station. This progress allowed me to link the first two pitches to another nice, yet sloping, ledge with a tree. The climbing was much easier and it was really fun to just move quickly. Hand jam after hand jam with an occasional fun crux. Next next pitch crux section had steep double cracks that I was able to dispatch and moved on to easier ground. With no topo I guessed where to go and ended up turning a very cool roof  (see photo of Hartley below) following faint chalk traces. At 68 meters I came upon a ledge and belayed. MAGIC!

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Hartley and Jamie get personal on the 1st hanging belay of the Vampire.

At this point the sun was setting and you can see a bit of the pink glow in the photo of Hartley below. We had been moving fast and I could tell there was less than a pitch to the summit. Once Jamie and Hart were at the ledge I sped off as fast as possible trying to make sure we got to the top before dark. I lucked out with not too much loose rock and pulled over the summit overhangs and we had made it. In no time Hartley, a Tahquitz veteran, was leading us down the descent. We were without headlamp but could make out things fairly well thanks to the moon. We took a while to get back to our packs and kinda missed the descent trail but made it back to camp for some yummy chili.

One of my weekend objectives was to climb the Flakes. A few of the San Diego guys I climb with had bouldered on Saturday at Black Mountain but were coming to Tahquitz for Sunday. We had four people, Nate, Kostas, Josh and I, but were unsure how partners should work out. Nate was psyched on the Flakes and Josh wanted to do Stairway to Heaven. No one was really interested in following Josh so I jumped on the chance to do one of the harder Bulge routes. Josh had a plan in place so we flew up to the trail and up the Trough and across the From Bad traverse. We dropped our packs and climbed up to the Vampire ledge. It was nice to get the blood flowing in the morning but it was a horrible warm up for the stiff first pitch. Josh had been on Stairway years before but now was confident he had the juice to send.

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Jamie doing his thing on some TINY crimps.

The first pitch is physical, tricky and just damn impressive. After an obvious steep layback the crack pinches out but face holds appear. You work some magic, stemming, and palming, and pressing to get to a short section of crack before being confronted with the crux. Hold face all the wrong was so you pull any way but down, clip a bolt, press up, grab a crimp and try to keep holding on as you work over a small roof to a ledge. Wow! Crazy granite climbing with very subtle yet powerful moves. Josh sent on lead and linked to the next pitch and I followed clean. With one 5.11+ pitch out of the way we were confronted with the crux slab traverse.

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Jamie reaches the flake, fun time!

We were having a blast and determined that the height of one’s highstep is proportional to the grade of the route. 5.11 slab requires a waist high step but since this was harder the next foot hold was around nipple height. Josh made it work but couldn’t get the cruxy 2nd clip. After making some progress Josh worked through the crux, falling a few times to make sure he really knew the move. Eventually he came down and we rested on the nice large ledge. Next try he fired the pitch making a couple of outrageous starfish like stemming moves after pulling the crux. I followed with a bunch of falls and was able to work out each section and do every move. I feel that I could go back and lead the pitch in a few attempts.

From here we rapped back to the Vampire ledge to meet up with Nate and Kostas who had decided against the Flakes. We ate some food and I racked up for the Flakes. Kostas and Nate kindly rapped off with our packs so that we would not have climb back up to eat lunch.

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Jamie makes quick work of the second pitch.

The Flakes starts with a thin and spooky first pitch. The gear seems to be pretty good but it’s all small nuts and the constrictions were not as good as I would like. I would have liked to place a bit more gear but made it work with what I had. There were lots of face features but I was getting really pumped. I finally got in the 000 C3 next to a fixed nut and worked up towards the crux roof. The holds were poor and I couldn’t really tell where I was going. I got in the smallest TCU, a 00, and tried to get into a stem to work left. All of a sudden I was stuck with my left foot too low, right foot way stemmed out and no way to move. I had been elvising pretty bad in the prior 5 minutes and had tried to downclimb and rest before committing to the stem. Stuck with my legs spread I tired pushing back left and then I was off. YIKES!

The 00 held which is awesome and helped my confidence. After a bit of rest I went back up and instantly found the correct left foot. Some magic pushing put me back into the stem and I was able to fiddle in a 0 TCU. I reached to a good lock under the roof and could see the next hold over the roof. Confident I knew what to do I lowered off. I would think of cleaning the gear but taking the time to remove and replace the small nuts seemed silly.

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Hartley follows the crux crimp traverse on the Vampire

After more rest I shakily sent the first pitch and linked it into the 2nd pitch which put us at the same large ledge as Stairway to Heaven. The next pitch was the crux with a tricky one move wonder. I went up clipped the bolt and couldn’t figure out the massive reach. (BETA ALERT) After hanging on the bolt I figured out that a left heel hook would allow me to make the long reach by locking off on the obvious small right hand crimp. Josh was able to do this move easily standing on the large column below…. He is 6′

After a few tries to completely wire the move I lowered off yet again to go for the “redpoint”. I made the clip and my foot slipped almost causing me to fall. I set up, cranked and made the reach and finished off the pitch! Many people suggest the Price of Fear finish over the standard finish so Josh showed me where to belay and we had one pitch left. With no beta yet again I started up the final slab. Josh told me the he had “onsighted all the other pitches but fallen here”. This was quite the setup as I worked my slab muscles and made it to a decision point. Josh and I joked around since he knew what way to go but I didn’t want to ask and he didn’t want to ruin my adventure. I ended up going the correct way and onsighted the pitch!

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Luke climbs up the excellent corners of Consolation.

We confirmed that the bolts were missing and Josh found the two holes from the old bolts. We down-soloed the Trough which was fun though I think rapping would be faster. I think it’s really selfish that someone chopped the rap station. Back at the base with plenty of time left we considered doing the Vampire to complete the West Face Bulge trifecta but the warm weather and sharp crimps would not be kind on our fingers. Relaxing a bit and waiting for our friends we decided another route was in order and we climbed Angel’s Fright. It was very straight forward and we had a blast talking our way up the route taking in the exposure and sights.

Another down solo of the Trough met us back up with our friends and we were done for the day.

I was super happy with the weekend since I had never climbed so many routes during a weekend in Idyllwild. Friday I’d done about 800 feet of easy climbing. Saturday was around 1200 feet of climbing and then about 1500 feet on Sunday with another 800 feet of downclimbing.

What a blast!


Incredible Hulk Topos and Information

15 10 2009

It all started on Labor Day of 2008, Lizzy was away doing geology and I needed to go rock climbing. A friend from the gym, Konstantin, suggested that we climb the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk. After doing the route we proposed that almost a year later we should come back, on the 4th of July and do Positive Vibrations. A lot of climbing, training and maturing later we climbed Positive Vibes this past July. I was so amazed by the route I wanted  do it with Lizzy and so in August we went back and climbed both the Red Dihedral and Positive Vibrations.

Peter Croft and Conrad Anker climbing  Solar Flare from Jeffery Morse on Vimeo.

On my first time up Positive Vibrations we got a bit lost and I became intrigued by the variation pitch I had led and wondered about the other routes on the face.  I surfed the web, posted on Supertopo and came back with a bunch of information.

I also ended up buying the awesome High Sierra: Peaks Passes and Trails  by RJ Secor. This book had been suggested multiple times and I was able to previewed it on Google books and saw the Hulk section had much of the information I was looking for. There were route descriptions for all of the major routes on the Hulk as well as a rough photo overlay with route lines.

Sadly not all is improved in the 2009 3rd edition. My friend Shay has the 2nd edition and on our trip to Mt Langley we discovered his book has a photo topo of the Keyhole Wall, but mine does not…


Topos for the easier routes on the Hulk can found on Supertopo.  You can get a free topo of Red Dihedral and more info about Positive Vibrations and SunSpot Dihedral here:


To get the full Positive Vibrations and SunSpot Dihedral topo you have to buy the High Sierra Guide.

An alternate topo for Sun Spot Dihedral can be found here:


In my research I was able to track down a bunch of topos by Dave Nettle

Airstream 5.13b:

The Venturi Effect 5.12+:

Tradewinds 5.11d:

I also found a fairly cool article about Eye of the Storm (V 5.12, 12 pitches, 1500 feet) but no topo….

The MoonBlog confirmed that  Airstream had seen a 2nd ascent by Nic Sellars and Tom Briggs.

I pulled the following post from my feed reader since I could no longer track down the actual blog entry from September 2007:

Nic Sellars and Tom Briggs have just returned from a trad climbing trip in the states where amongst other things they made the 2nd ascent of a classic Peter Croft route called Airstream. Nic sent in this report.

“Just got back to Blighty after a fab month long trip to the states to climb in the High Sierras on an Alpine rock trip. Tom Briggs and I managed to make the 2nd ascent of Airsteam, a 12 pitch Peter Croft route on a crag called The Incredible Hulk. The route comprised numerous pitches of 5.11 (E4 ish) up to the crux pitches of 512c (7b+), 513b (7c+), 512c. We managed to on-sight all pitches except the crux pitch which managed to squeeze in all it’s difficulty into about 15 ft of slippery groove technical shinaniggins. I red-pointed this by the skin of my teeth as I was fairly trashed by the climb up to this point. All in all we took 12 hours from bivvi to bivvi. The next day we quested down to a very hot and sweaty Bishop to contratulate Peter on his route with some beers (and meet up with a real US role model). Hope the photo attachment arrives in a useable state.”

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Since I was not content with the currently available information I started putting together some more information. This coincided nicely with a few additions that Scott Bennett made to the Incredible Hulk Mountain Project page. The comments he had made, the Nettle topos, combined with my experience and the Secor book allowed me to create the following photos. I’m still working to get all of the routes in photo topo form and will eventually be including BlowHard 5.12+, Solar Flare 5.12+, SolarBurn 5.12+, Airstream 5.13b and Eye of the Storm 5.12+ when I’m finished.

Above and below are the photo overlay topos that I made.  Feel free to leave comments here or on MP.com

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