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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 009

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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 012

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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 016

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!

Tahquitz - Sept 09 019

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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 024

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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 026

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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 030

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.

Tahquitz - Sept 09 033

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!

Tahquitz - Sept 09 038

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!




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