2009 – A Milestone Year

29 12 2009

The year is drawing to a close and I’ve begun to realize that, even though I didn’t allow myself to literally write down a list of goals for the year (I find this just results in too much pressure and disappointment…), I did in fact have a bunch of goals and I accomplished a big number of them. In fact, I hit some pretty big milestones this year. So without further ado, here are the highlights (in chronological order):

  • First time: pulling a chest muscle by coughing too much. And then taking 2+ months to recover.
  • Onsighted my first Indian Creek 5.11, Rump Roast II. After several months of not climbing because I had pulled a chest muscle.
  • Turned 21.
  • Accepted as a PhD student in geology at Stanford.
  • Awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.
  • Ran my longest ever trail race: 22k in Malibu.

  • First time: in Zion, and first time on a multipitch free route in Zion – Sheer Lunacy.
  • Graduated from Caltech with a B.S. in Geology.

  • Returned to Smith Rock after not visiting for almost 5 years.
  • First time: onsighting 5.11d (or sending any 5.11d, for that matter) – my dream route, Sunshine Dihedral.
  • Returned to Squamish, one of my favorite areas to climb, and finally sent Crime of the Century, right before onsighting Yorkshire Gripper.
  • Moved to Palo Alto, started climbing at Planet Granite Sunnyvale.
  • First: duathlon. Competed in the Luna Bar Women’s Duathlon at the Luna Bar Women’s Triathlon Festival: 2mi run, 20mi bike, 4mi run.

  • Met Sarah Kate, my awesome climbing partner. ūüôā
  • Started my first term of grad school at Stanford.
  • Biked to school every single day.
  • Visited Arkansas for the first time, on a geology field trip.
  • First: Climbed my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Yosemite 5.10s – 2 onsights and a redpoint.
  • First: Climbed my first Yosemite 5.11, the crux pitch of South by Southwest, which I climbed with Sarah Kate.

  • First time: Feeling like I am getting over being cripplingly intimidated of climbing in Yosemite.
  • First time: attending a tweetup: #jtreetweetup!
  • Finally sent Gunsmoke! (First tried it in April 2005)
  • First time: getting the whole week of Thanksgiving off, prompting an awesome trip to Indian Creek.
  • First: 5.11++ onsight in Indian Creek – Quarter of a Man.
  • First: 5.12!!! Swedin-Ringle.

  • First: 5.11+ that felt easy… Coyne Crack.
  • Finished my first term as a grad student at Stanford.
  • First time: living less than 2 hours away from Luke – he moved to Mountain View!
  • Finally met theclimbergirl ūüôā

So, as you can tell, it’s been a great year, in both my lives (as a climber and a geologist). I think 2010 will be a really exciting year as well, as I start to get more involved in my research at school and I continue to train (and hopefully not get injured). Sarah Kate and I have a really big goal for next year in Yosemite, so hopefully that will keep us motivated! Also, Luke got me a triathlon wetsuit for Christmas, yet another reason to start training for a triathlon (or two!) in 2010 – hopefully a sprint distance first and, if all goes well, an Olympic distance.

Happy (almost) new year!



A Week of Splitters in Indian Creek

8 12 2009

There are many things that are awesome about Stanford. One of these many awesome-tastic features is the fact that we get an entire week off for Thanksgiving. At Caltech, we only got Thursday and Friday off, and most professors considered it a normal week of school when scheduling work for the week. We decided to take advantage of this awesome opportunity to head to Indian Creek for a week of excellent desert splitters.

Day -1 (Friday): Travel Day

Sarah Kate and I set off from Palo Alto around 2pm. After getting stuck in some traffic and losing over 2 hours because of a little snow over Donner Pass, we made it to Winnemucca, NV at around 11pm and passed out in a Motel 6. Meanwhile, Luke, Konstantin, and Lindsey had left San Diego around 6pm and were driving through the night so they could get some climbing in on Saturday.

Day 0 (Saturday): Travel Day / Cat Wall

Sarah Kate and I rolled out of bed at 5:45am and were on I-80 heading east by 5:55am. It was good that the speed limit was 75mph, because we had a lot of distance to cover to make it to the Creek by dinner time.

Meanwhile, the San Diego crew was just rolling in to Moab when we were leaving Winnemucca. Even if Sarah Kate and I had driven through the night, we would not have been in Moab yet. We were glad we stopped to sleep. Luke, Konstantin, and Lindsey drove out to the Creek, set up camp, and headed to the Cat Wall to get some pitches in. Luke sent Johnny Cat (5.11+), one of his former projects, as a warm-up. They also got on Mad Dog (5.11+) and Pitbull Terror (5.11). Luke took a (rare) lead fall on gear when a foothold broke unexpectedly on Pitbull Terror.

Luke flashes Mad Dog (5.11+). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

After a rushed water fill-up/gas fill-up/grocery trip in town, Sarah Kate and I managed to make it out to the Creek Pasture by about 7pm to find a crackling fire and three hungry climbers. We had excellent beer sausages for dinner. Sarah Kate and I were again happy that we had stopped to sleep on our drive out based on how tired the crazy drive-through-the-night folks were already.

Luke about to whip on Pitbull Terror (5.11). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Day 1 (Sunday): Optimator / Battle of the Bulge

From our previous trips to the Creek, Luke and I have learned that it’s good to start slow. Manage skin, get used to climbing splitters, get comfortable with your cam sizes. We had decided that Optimator was a good place to go for Sarah Kate’s and my first day. There was one sweet route there for Sarah Kate and Lindsey to try to onsight and me to get some revenge on – Soulfire (5.11-). I’d pumped out just before the anchor before…

Lizzy watches Luke on Long Island Iced Tea (5.10+). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

We got on Lady Pillar (5.10-) and Long Island Iced Tea (5.10+) for warm-ups. Sarah Kate, Luke, and I headed over to Soulfire, while Konstantin racked up for Annunaki (5.12-). Sarah Kate onsighted Soulfire, a great start for her Indian Creek trip! Then I got my revenge redpoint, feeling relaxed and unpumped the whole time, which really helped my confidence for the trip. Lindsey also onsighted the route (she hadn’t watched either of us climb it).

Lizzy sends Soulfire (5.11-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Meanwhile, Konstantin took some falls on Annunaki, but made it to the anchor. After watching me on Soulfire, Luke headed back over for a flash attempt, which was successful, for Luke’s hardest Indian Creek flash!

Lindsey onsights Soulfire (5.11-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke and I walked over to the base of Optimator (5.13-) and found two dudes toproping it, which was pretty awesome. Optimator is definitely a route I’d like to get on eventually, although I know I’m nowhere near ready for it yet (long very tight hands and stacks). It was cool to watch someone on it, though.

Luke sends Annunaki (5.12-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

After sending Soulfire, I was pretty much out of motivation for routes at Optimator and Luke and Sarah Kate agreed to go with me to Battle of the Bulge so I could get on Swedin-Ringle (5.12-), which, as you may remember, was one of my projects on both of our previous Indian Creek trips. It was a very low stress situation, since I still had plenty of days to send, so even though I fell, I felt much stronger and actually climbed through all the moves to the anchor (rather than cam-jugging the last couple feet, which I had done before). Then it was Luke’s turn to redpoint (he had lead it on my gear before), so he racked up and sent! He was happy to go second so that the quickdraws would already be hanging from the anchors. ūüôā

Day 2 (Monday): Battle of the Bulge

After our warm-up day(s), it was time to go to Battle of the Bulge to get on some projects. We headed over to The Warmup (5.9 sandbag) to warm up. Luke, Sarah Kate, and Lindsey all sent Our Piece of the Real Estate (5.11-), but I needed to conserve energy. I racked up with the small cams and headed over to Digital Readout (5.12) with Luke. I had been on this route once before, on our first trip to the Creek, and had struggled a lot. I surprised myself and made it to about 3 feet below the anchor, where the footholds disappeared. I tried to figure out a sequence, but my feet slipped and I was off. After a short rest and the discovery of a very small face foothold, I got back on and easily reached the anchor. I was frustrated and exhausted when I got back to the ground, but in retrospect, it was pretty awesome to be so close to sending a 5.12 on only my 2nd try… I tend to be kind of hard on myself.

Luke closing in on the anchors of Digital Readout (5.12). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke got on the route next and fell a lot, struggling with the thin jams and tricky feet. Later, he got on for a 2nd time and nearly sent, getting just a little below where I had fallen on my attempt (so frustrating). We were both pretty tired by then. It took me probably 3+ hours to feel recovered enough to climb again…

Meanwhile, Lindsey tried The Jane Fonda Total Body Workout (5.11-, probably sandbag), managing to work out the chimney with some takes and figuring out the gear and size beta for the long upper crack. Konstantin took a TR lap on Big Baby (5.11), which Sarah Kate’s friend Dave had put up. Luke and I took a break to watch Andre and Leah working on Ruby’s Cafe (5.13-).

After I’d finally recovered from Digital Readout, I wasn’t very psyched on getting back on it, so I decided to try to onsight Quarter of a Man (5.11++). I knew it was a long, sustained route (35m+), so I hadn’t tried it on previous trips because I’d known I didn’t have the endurance. But, I was feeling strong this time, so I went for it. The crack was smaller than I’d expected – mostly sustained black Metolius cams (all the red Camalots were very tight) and there were not many rests. I focused on moving forward and not wasting energy. I had expected the top section, where the crack zigzags steeply, to be the crux, but luckily it was not – there were stem stances and layback jugs, which were great after the long sustained corner. In no time I was clipping the anchor – tying with Sunshine Dihedral (5.11d) for my hardest onsight!

Lizzy on the final section of Quarter of a Man (5.11++).

I gave Luke the beta and he set off on his flash go. The crack had felt tight for me, so it must have felt even smaller for him. He tried pretty hard, but fell just before the rest pod. A little rest and he sent to the top – it’ll go next time! Then Sarah Kate got on the route. I’d rounded up a total of 5 black Metolius cams from our gear and our friends’ gear so she’d have better pro for the route. Even though she didn’t quite have the endurance to send the route, she stuck with it, climbed every move, and even took a big whipper on a green Camalot near the end – a very proud effort.

Sarah Kate on Quarter of a Man (5.11++).

The sun had gone down while Sarah Kate was on the route, so it was time to head back to camp for dinner and campfire sitting.

Day 3 (Tuesday): Scarface

Scarface (5.11-), Wavy Gravy (5.10-), and Mantel Illness (5.11) were on various people’s to-do lists, so we headed to Scarface. Lindsey and I warmed up on Unknown 5.9 to the left of Wavy Gravy, while Luke, Konstantin, and Sarah Kate got on Wavy Gravy. Lindsey also sent Wavy Gravy after warming up. I was feeling pretty tired and not psyched about leading it (or TRing it, because I like leading anything that’s not a warm-up at the Creek – it’s good for me mentally), so I abstained. Andre, Leah, and Luke all sent Mantle Illness and Sarah Kate, Lindsey, and Konstantin headed over to get in line for Scarface.

Luke sends Wavy Gravy (5.10-).

Meanwhile, I had scoped out a thin crack corner called Way of the Gun (5.12) and wanted to go for it. I made it through the initial corner (easier than I’d thought) and the roof, but took when I realized I didn’t have the right rack for the corner after the roof. I got more cams from the ground support crew, which was good because, although it was short, the upper corner was definitely the crux, with some very sport-y climbing (i.e. not straight-up jamming). Leah and Luke both toproped the route, having more success on the upper section (they are much stronger crimpers than me) than I did.

Lindsey on Scarface (5.11-). Photo by Andre Kiryanov

Luke had belayed Andre on Twitch! (5.11), which he and Leah also TRed. We all headed over to Scarface to check on the other group’s progress. Sarah Kate had sent first try, Lindsey was in the process of sending after many falls at the beginning, and Konstantin sent soon after. Success! While Scarface was being sent, Luke onsighted the Sicilian (5.11), a short, fierce off-fingers crack.

At this point, everyone was starting to feel ready for a rest day, so we called it a day and headed back to camp.

Day 4 (Wednesday): Rest Day

It had been 3 days on for Sarah Kate and I and 4 days on for the San Diego crew, so it was time for a break. Luke got up early to go put an anchor on an unclimbed crack we had spotted on our last trip and the rest of us rolled out of our tents a little later and directly into Lindsey’s car. We had delicious breakfast at the Diner in Moab, then amazing showers at the Texaco, then some chai, internet, and sandwiches at the Love Muffin.

The Love Muffin closed early (2pm – winter hours) and Sarah Kate and I still had more work to do (this whole 1st year grad student thing…) so we headed to the Moab Library. In case you haven’t been there, the Moab Library is awesome. It is an excellent place to do work (if the Love Muffin is closed).

After a quick grocery store run, we headed to the Moab Brewery for some dinner and beers, then back to the Creek Pasture to sit around the fire a bit. It was an excellent rest day.

Day 5 (Thanksgiving): Battle of the Bulge

The post-rest day plan was to return to Battle of the Bulge to get back on some projects with renewed energy and the built-up endurance of the first couple days of climbing. We warmed up on Railroad Tracks (5.10-) and Unnamed 5.10-, then went straight to projecting. I checked out Christmas Tree (5.12+) and was totally inspired, but not totally confident I had the guns for the steep upper layback corner (the first half looked not so bad). So I decided to devote my energy for the day to some more attainable goals.

Lizzy chalks from a fingerstack on Swedin-Ringle (5.12-).

Konstantin wanted to try Swedin-Ringle, but let me go first so he could check out my beta. First, Luke onsighted Three Strikes You’re Out (5.11) with my camera on his harness so he could take photos. Thanks Luke! I felt really smooth and relaxed, solid even on the stacks, but my foot slipped unexpectedly when I was adjusting a cam out of a foot pod. I got right back on and easily sent to the anchor. I was frustrated, but also felt like the route was very attainable on the next try. Konstantin got on the route and essentially learned to stack as he went. He was obviously trying pretty hard and took some sweet falls that involved me (the belayer) flying into the air.

Konstantin trying hard on Swedin-Ringle (5.12-).

When Konstantin lowered off, I got right back on the route and, with only a little bit of struggling at the grey alien section (my worst crack size), sent the route – my first 5.12! It felt great to send, on only my 8th time on the route (all attempts on lead, which I am very proud of) and for most of the route to feel so smooth and relaxed. I’d even say I might use it as an intermediate warm-up for other 5.12s in the area in the future (yes, it is that fun).

Meanwhile, Lindsey had gone over to get back on her project, The Jane Fonda Total Body Workout . Although she made progress and climbed higher than her first attempt, exhaustion and pump took over and she had to take. I’m sure it was a valiant effort, because she was exhausted for the rest of the day. Afterwards, Sarah Kate (who had belayed) came back over to the Swedin-Ringle area and flashed Three Strikes You’re Out, her first solid 5.11 at the Creek.

Sarah Kate flashes Three Strikes You’re Out (5.11).

Luke and I then headed over to Digital Readout so he could have another redpoint go. He felt much more solid than on his previous tries and clipped the chains, for his first solid Indian Creek 5.12.

I had thought about getting on Digital Readout, but remembered how draining it had been on my other try. I really wanted to get back on Coyne Crack (5.11+), so I decided to try that first and leave Digital Readout for a later time (or day… or trip). Luke headed over to Supercrack Buttress with us ladies and we congregated below the base of Coyne Crack. Although it had been a busy day at the Battle of the Bulge/Donnelly/Supercrack area, I don’t think Coyne Crack had seen an ascent all day. That was about to change ūüôā

I was FULL of psyche, so I convinced everyone else to let me go first (I guess they like to have my beta…). The initial crack felt WAY easier than when I had gotten on it on our first trip. I was able to get very thin hand jams from the very beginning (probably because I was much stronger on this trip) and quickly made it to the money section (which is most of the route) of red Camalots forever. IT WAS SO GOOD. I was a little sad when it ended. Sarah Kate flashed for her hardest trad lead ever! Yay! Luke also flashed, with a bit more struggling than the rest of us due to his larger hand size. Lindsey also got on, but ended up taking a couple times, being still tired from doing Jane Fonda in the morning.

Sarah Kate flashes Coyne Crack (5.11+).

It had been a great day of climbing and I would’ve kept going, but it was starting to get dark and we had Thanksgiving dinner to make. Together with food from Bob and Heather, we had a fantastic Thanksgiving meal, complete with mashed potatoes (real), stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and chicken cooked in the fire. Somehow everything was ready at the same time, but I guess that’s just the magic of Thanksgiving.

Day 6 (Friday): Cat Wall

We headed back to the Cat Wall. Luke and Konstantin wanted to try King Cat (5.11+) and Sarah Kate and I had been told that we should try Mad Dog (5.11+). After warming up on Unnamed 5.10 and Cat Man Do (5.10), we headed over towards Johnny Cat to get on the projects of the day.

Konstantin on King Cat (5.11+).

Luke and Konstantin both made valiant efforts on King Cat, but had trouble figuring out the beta for pulling the roof. I tried to onsight Mad Dog, but got pumped for essentially the first time all trip (while climbing, at least) and fell. After resting and unpumping, I sent the rest of the route cleanly, but my psyche and energy were pretty much gone for the day. Sarah Kate and Lindsey both got on the route afterwards and struggled with the tight green camalots, but eventually made it to the top also. A project for all of us for another trip to the Creek.

Lizzy on her onsight attempt on Mad Dog (5.11+).

Luke tried to onsight Cat Burglar (5.12) and fell just short of the anchor, but sent on his 2nd try for another Indian Creek 5.12! Luke ended the day with an onsight of Bachelor Party (5.11+).

I discovered a potential pre-Christmas Tree project in this vicinity, too: Cathedral of the Mad Feline (5.12+), a steep Lisa Gnade tips corner. It was gorgeous and would definitely be good training for the steep section on Christmas Tree.

Day 7 (Saturday): Way Rambo / Travel Day

Everyone was starting to feel pretty tired and we’d heard forecasts for rain and other bad weather coming in on Saturday afternoon, so we decided to pack up camp in the morning, go climbing, then start driving home whenever we got tired or it started raining. Bob wanted to go to Way Rambo to work on Slice and Dice (5.12), so we decided to go there, too. Luke and Konstantin were psyched on Way Rambo (5.12-) and I was considering trying to onsight Layaway Plan (5.11+).

Luke getting sucked into Way Nutter (5.9 OW).

We got on Blue Sun (5.10-) as a warm-up, while Luke and Sarah Kate also did Way Nutter (5.9 OW). Lindsey had brought a fleece Mickey Mouse Christmas themed onesy, so she wanted to do some climbing in it before we left. So she lead Blue Sun in the onesy, which was pretty awesome to watch.

Lindsey climbs Blue Sun (5.10-) in the onesy.

After warming up and checking out Layaway Plan, I decided to go for it even though I was deeply intimidated by the roof. Everything went pretty well until just before the roof, when my foot slipped off a sandy foothold – no onsight. Even though the pressure was off, I was still worried about pulling the lip of the roof, the crux. I placed my gear, transitioned into the undercling and, with much effort, pulled around the roof. The rope drag was awful on the last couple feet, but luckily there were good stances. An awesome route! Luke followed to clean my gear.

Lizzy underclings out the roof on Layaway Plan (5.11+).

Konstantin got on Way Rambo, but took several falls at the beginning of the stacks section, and lowered down off two cams so Luke could have a try. Despite feeling tired (on his 7th day of climbing at the Creek), Luke sent first try!

Luke sends Way Rambo (5.12-).

Meanwhile, Sarah Kate and Lindsey had both taken TR laps on Slice and Dice and we watched a dude flash it with beautiful style – very inspiring. Everyone was pretty tired by this point, so we decided to call it a day (it was already 4pm anyways) and load into the cars to head home.

Luke, Sarah Kate, and I drove into Moab to enjoy some dinner at Zax before driving north to Salt Lake City and finding a motel for the night, happy to have cut several hours off our driving time for Sunday.

Day 8 (Sunday): Travel Day

We had a pretty uneventful travel day driving from SLC to Palo Alto. There was barely any traffic, which was awesome (especially compared to the post-Thanksgiving Vegas-LA traffic). We took a little break in Reno to check out the Patagonia Outlet, which was pretty cool even though the prices weren’t quite low enough for me and most styles I actually liked weren’t in my size. Luke got lucky with a couple shirts and pairs of pants, though.


This was by far the best trip Luke and I have had at the Creek. We came into the trip feeling strong, started slow, conserved skin, and tried really hard (at least I was super comfortable pushing and falling from above gear by the end of the trip, I don’t know about Luke, but he did take a couple falls, too). It was awesome to finally have some success (and some near success). Sending Coyne Crack and Swedin-Ringle and onsighting Quarter of a Man were really big accomplishments for me and I’m super happy. Coming so close to onsighting two other 5.11+ routes (1 fall each on Mad Dog and Layaway Plan) isn’t so bad, either. Too bad it’s not Squamish season, because I’d love to take my strength and confidence onto some of my projects there.

For more photos, check out our Picasa Indian Creek gallery.

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 ūüė¶¬†¬† ) 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.


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…


Weekends in Yosemite

13 10 2009

One of the perks of living in the Bay Area (other than getting to climb at Planet Granite Sunnyvale, which I love) is that I live within weekend distance of Yosemite now. And that’s pretty sweet.

My main obstacle in taking advantage of my awesome proximity to huge granite walls (and some not so huge ones too) is that I’m pretty intimidated by the idea of Yosemite. There’s so much history there and so many amazing rock climbers that I have a hard time bringing the confidence I have at my favorite playgrounds (Squamish, Smith Rock, etc.) to the Valley with me. Even though I know that I can climb 5.11, I drive into those hallowed grounds and feel afraid of 5.9. And it’s not that there aren’t plenty of great routes under 5.9 in the Valley, but I’m pretty sure it’s silly to let my intimidation limit me to that extent. So that’s what I’ve been working on on these weekend in the Valley.

The first weekend (Oct 3/4) was the weekend of the Yosemite tweetup – 6 twitter friends meeting at a campsite at Crane Flat and doing some climbing together. This weekend was fun, but didn’t actually involve a lot of climbing since I was recovering from a pretty nasty cold/flu/something and it snowed on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Nevertheless, it was fun to hang out at the crag and see that climbing in Yosemite does not always have to be a huge production involving many many pitches (and often haul bags). This was good for reducing intimidation.

This last weekend (Oct 10/11), Luke and Stein were going to the Valley to start working on Freerider, which they would eventually like to free. I wanted to go too, to get the most out of my week and a half of Luke visiting and to get some climbing in myself. This was my first time climbing outside with my new gym partner (and awesome climber girl) Sarah Kate.

On Saturday we had a slow start due to waiting in line at Camp 4 in the morning, then transferring all our food and tents from the Friday night campsite. We headed to the Five Open Books to try Commitment (5.9) because we wanted to do a multipitch together (this is a short, 3-pitch climb, so a good way to make sure we work well together on a multipitch before trying something harder and/or longer). However, there were lots of parties in front of us and two in line behind us, so we decided to bail and go cragging instead.

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Lizzy on the first pitch of the Salathe (5.10c) with lots of El Cap above.

We thought the El Cap Base cragging looked fun, so we headed to the meadow and hiked to the base. We warmed up with Little John Right (5.8), then intercepted Luke and Stein as they finished rapping down the fixed lines from the Heart Ledges. We had wanted to get on Moby Dick (5.10a), but it was crowded, so someone convinced me to do the first pitch of the Salathe Wall (5.10c). Ok – jumping right into Yosemite 5.10, but this pitch was supposed to be good. I kept expecting it to have awful pin scars and slippery feet, but I reached the anchors before I found any! The pitch was actually really fun and very reasonable for the grade. Take that, intimidation! Moby Dick was STILL crowded, so Sarah Kate took a TR lap on Ahab (5.10b sandbag) and we headed down with the boys to cook dinner in the dark.

The next day, we were up and at ’em a little earlier, so there was only one party ahead of us at Commitment. We waited a little at the base, but not too long. The route was fun and pretty low-key. I can understand why it would be the first 5.9 multipitch for people since it really only has a couple of 5.9 moves (and the 1st pitch 5.8 splitter is awesome!). We headed to the El Cap Meadow to eat our lunches and look up at the climbers, then decided to get on a couple more pitches by doing Jamcrack.

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Sarah Kate on the first pitch of Jamcrack (5.7)

We arrived to Sunnyside Bench to find it nearly deserted – only 2 climbers on their way down from Jamcrack. We were psyched. Sarah Kate led the first pitch and I got the 2nd. I’d done the first pitch before, but the 2nd was new to both of us and it was really fantastic – great, easy jamming and a lot less slippery than the first pitch because the slightly harder rating must keep the crowds off it a bit more. Then we toproped the 5.10s to the left of the first pitch of Jamcrack before calling it a day.

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Lizzy on the second pitch of Jamcrack (5.8)

Overall, it was a great, relaxed weekend and I think we both felt a little less intimidated about climbing in the Valley. Maybe one of these next weekends we’ll get on a harder, longer route like the East Buttress of El Cap (or South by Southwest, which Luke and I didn’t do the weekend before since I was still sick).

But for now, it’s raining (here and in the Valley, I think), so time to get some work done in preparation for the next climbing weekend.


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  RockClimbing.com 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 ūüėČ


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!