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!



Traveling and Trying Hard when the School Year Ends

19 06 2009

It takes a lot to be successful and in the past many months, as well as the last 4 years, Lizzy has been working hard at Caltech on her Bachelors degree in Geology. She graduated one week ago and is currently celebrating in Smith Rock! It was a bit cloudy for graduation and it even rained a little bit, way out of character for SoCal. Lizzy and I had fun showing her parents around Pasadena between various graduation activities.

Caltech Graduation - June 09 - 014The CalTech Class of 2009

Caltech Graduation - June 09 - 016Lizzy with friends Deepak on the left and Gabe on the right.

Caltech Graduation - June 09 - 087

Lizzy lost in a Sea of graduates.

Caltech Graduation - June 09 - 101

Lizzy did it!!

Caltech Graduation - June 09 - 104Lizzy with her Hawaiian lei.

After bringing Lizzy and her parents to the Airport on Saturday I snuck away to Idyllwild to get in a bit of climbing.  Saturday night was a bit surreal as much of Idywilld seemed to be stuck in the clouds. Konstantin drove up from San Diego and we camped at San Jacinto State Park which is quite pricey but convenient to the climbing.


The idea for the day was to do Vahalla as a warmup for the Edge. The Edge is supposed to be super scary and if I could style Vahalla it would most likely not be a problem. Way back in 2005 Hartley and I had tried to climb Vahalla hot off reading stories of the Stone Masters byJohn Long. Hartley brilliantly lead the first pitch which I some how followed and I’m sure both of us fell at least a few times. The 2nd pitch contains the business and neither of us could commit to the insecure smears on lead while above the bolt. We bailed and went to work on Insomnia another climb that was well above our head at the time.


Now in 2009 I was confident, perhaps too much so, that I could climb Vahalla and so I started up the first pitch. The granite is wild with knobs and scoops and I slowly nervously made my way up to the 1st bolt (there are only 3 for the pitch).  Following Konstantin’s advice I got up a little higher with some tricky stemming and clipped the 2nd bolt and prepared for the crux. I must have spent at least 10 minutes trying to find a way around the next few moves but nothing worked. After too much consideration I transitioned my weight to my right foot while deadpointing for the next crimp.


The crux was not quite over and I magically held on to nothing as I slowly worked right evidently doing a good job of keeping my weight on my feet. At one point I thought for sure I would fall but I tried hard, as hard as I possibly could, and made the final bump right to a better crimp end eventually the jug. I was relieved as I manteled the next ledge and clipped the final bolt. After a bit of shaking out and advice from Konstantin that I was through the crux and should avoid falling, I made the final few traversing moves and manteled again to log ledge.


My confidence was a bit shaken but I still had a lot of climbing to go. After following the pitch I lowered Konstantin to an old bolt and tied him off to the anchor as a backup. At the lower position there would be more  rope out and it would follow a straighter line reducing rope drag. I made the traverse right to the bolt and stared at the crux. This time I would not have beta and would hopefully be able to figure out the moves. Shakily I moved up on the poor holds before getting stuck not knowing where to go. Using both hands in opposition just to stay on, I couldn’t make progress. I tried to shift my weight around but lost my balance and fell. I was barely above the bolt and Konstantin gave me a nice catch which helped put my fear of falling at rest.


I lowered back to the hands free stance below the bolt for my next attempt. It seemed silly and unnecessary to un-clip from the bolt and traverse to and from the belay. Konstantin gave me some beta about going right to a rectangular hold and then up. I saw the hold he spoke of and figured out a better sequence. As I went back up the smears some how felt more secure and I got established with my left on a slopey hold and my right on the poor rectangle. I kept my weight in and reached up left for another sloping crimp.  It was crazy that these holds were keeping me on the wall as I reached up and grabbed an incut divot for my right hand, bringing my feet above the bolt.  I thought I had made it and shook out on the good crimp. Not wanting to blow it and take a big fall I felt around and eventually manteled up with my foot on the good hold. Two moves later I was at the bolt and was ready to enjoy the rest of the 5.10 climbing to the anchors far above. I wandered through the golden granite with a big grin on my face amazed that a climb could make its way up this blank undulating face.


I didn’t quite sling everything properly and reached the anchors with a bit of rope drag.  For the final pitch I went up and left missing a bolt which I had to down climb and clip after I had given up hope and tied off a big knob. After the Sundance anchors I kept climbing into the SunDike variation which I felt was quite insecure and difficult especially for “5.10a”. I think my mental ability was sapped and I was ready to be done.  We rapped off and I was happy both for sending Vahalla and for taking real fall which is hard for me to do. It seemed that I was not yet ready for The Edge so we made our way to Disco Jesus so Konstantin could have some fun on the sharp end.


All of the above photos are of  Konstantin leading the 2nd pitch of Disco Jesus. The 2nd pitch features insecure dime edging followed by a crazy smearing sequence on underclings finished off with a hand foot match mantel to a jug rail that leads to the anchors. Photos  thanks to Darshan who’s name I recognized from and happened to be climbing in the area.

After finishing the three pitch Disco Jesus we ate lunch and I got back on the sharp end for Miscalculation. Konstatin had tried it previously but bailed at the first crux.  As usual I took my time sewing up the crack and slowly making progress with thin locks and insecure laybacking. I got through the first crux and prepared for most difficult part protected by two #5 stoppers before getting in a small finger sized cam. The locks were thin and I suppose that it may have been easier to lay back than to jam it straight in. At the top I remebered to stem and after a bit more climbing I made it to the anchors for the onsigh of the  full value 90 foot pitch.  I had placed all of my small nuts and cams and was left with way too many big pieces on my harness.. Oops!

Even though it was only only 3pm we had climbed 7 hard pitches and were ready to relax. Back at the car we ate a second lunch with a bit of wine from the night before. I was hoping to see a few friends at Tahquitz and while we didn’t see who we expected we ran in to Leah who needed a ride home.  It was a great weekend and really good for me to work on my slab climbing weakness.

This week has been quite busy as Lizzy made her way from Seattle to Smith Rock and I finished up as much work as possible. Tomorrow I will fly up to Portland to relax and enjoy many of the classic routes at smith.

Hope everyone has a great weekend,


The Vampire and Insomina, remembering the past.

7 10 2008

Who am I? What makes me a climber? What does being a climber mean to me?

Climbing is a large part of my life and it impacts my actions, my thoughts and my dreams.  Beyond the flow of movement over rock I am intrigued by the history of this sport. The characters of previous generations paved the way and established the routes that are popular today. Along with this history comes a certain weigh of the past, a necessity to live up to expectations. As climbing has progressed we have continually redefined what is hard, what is possible and what is for the next generation. In this mess of routes, grades and ideas I ponder where I stand. What are my skills and why does any of this matter?

Tahquitz and Suicide rocks were the stomping grounds of the Stone Masters. Old school masters such as John Long, Rick Accomazzo and Mike Graham cut their teeth freeing aid lines and establishing new routes. This place has a bold aura and requires a competent lead head, slab climbing skills and refined jamming technique.

Two weeks ago Lizzy and I made our way to Idyllwild to get our dose of SoCal granite. The summer was ending and the fall trad climbing season was soon to be upon us. The end of September boasts excellent weather at the slightly alpine Tahquitz and Suicide rocks. A strong summer season sport climbing gave me a bit of an incentive to start working on ticking some harder trad routes. High on my list were The Vampire and Insomnia Crack.

Years ago, on my first trip to Idyllwild, I had tried to top rope Insomnia. At the time, laybacking through the thin hands crux, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. Pasting my feet and keeping a tight core to prevent from barn-dooring I barely managed to fall my way up the route. The striking crack still lingered in my mind yet 5.11 no longer seemed so impossible.

The Vampire brought a different vision to my mind. I had only heard stories and read about this classic route. Three amazing pitches each with a tricky yet unique crux. With much encouragement from the San Diego Crew I thought I might be ready.  I had a lot of anticipation about trying to onsight this route and worked extra hard at the gym to be ready.

Saturday morning turned out beautifully and Lizzy and I were the first ones to the base of the route. We were familiar with the West Face Bulge after our previous visit to climb Super Pooper. I climbed the easy pitch to the base of the direct start and Lizzy followed up with the pack. The first pitch, called the bat crack, has the most straight in jamming on the route and is a test of endurance. I brought a good number of cams for the 40 meter pitch but ended up wanting different sizes. After getting pumped through the start of the pitch you get rewarded with 20 feet of perfect hands (#2 camalot) before a tricky move at a piton. Next comes a nice rest followed by another hard section getting past a bolt. Unsure of the sequence I up climbed and down climbed this part a few times before committing to a high foot. I was even able to get a sweet knee bar rest between my attempts.  After passing the bolt you climb up on jugs and ledges an place a high piece (#3 camalot). You then traverse left to a set of good holds and mantle up to the anchor. I found the mantle to be quite difficult and am sure that I used the wrong sequence. Fortunately I made it and belayed Lizzy up.

The second pitch starts immediately with the crux and eases up with fun climbing on bomber flakes. After many false starts I finally committed to the dime edges, got my foot way left reached the flake and made my way to the jug.  I was happy to have the second pitch of the route in the bag and I was able to enjoyed the exposure on the rest of the pitch. Lizzy followed this pitch brilliantly making the traverse without fallingwhich helped lift her spirits after the pumpy first pitch.

The third pitch remained and had foiled many suitors onsight attempts. One of my friends had taken quite the whipper when a cam poped after he made it over the bulge. Of all the pitches I knew the least about this one. I had heard of a reach to a seam and a bad foot hold but I had no idea of a proper sequence. After leaving the belay you romp up these beautiful flakes, clip a bolt, and then traverse right over a bulge. I made my way up the flakes quickly and started examining the features. I saw the seam but could not discern any feet below it. Fortunately there was a good stance to the left of the crux and I stayed their a while checking out my options. I finally found a few foot holds and was able to establish my left hand in the seam. Next I blindly groped around with my right hand for any small feature that would allow me to get my feet up higher. Luckily I found a small crimp, smeared my feet up and made the crux reach into the next pod in the seam.

The lock I found was bomber and I quickly moved my feet up and made the next few moves. There was a random nut lying ON the crack that I quickly moved to my chalk bag. Out came the RP’s and I slotted a bomber #3 in the tiny crack. A few more moves and I was at the undercling!!! I had made the onsight and only 5.9 climbing remained! I kept moving up caucious not to make any wrong moves and linked the 3rd into the 4th pitch. The final moves up the overhang were amazing with jugs appearing just where you needed them.  Reaching the top I set up the belay and yelled for Lizzy to climb.  At 5′ 5″ Lizzy was a bit short to make the reach into the seam. However once she established herself with the nylon jug she was able to crank the crux move and followed the rest of the pitch clean.

We rapped off with a 70m rope and made our way back to town. We celebrated with a loaf of the local Blueberry Streusel bread, a delicious pastry that we had discovered on our last visit. Tired from the full day we went to bed early so we rise early for a day at Suicide.

Lizzy swears I always take pictures of her putting her shoes on.  I must have mis-timed this shot.

Sunday was another gorgeous day with clouds that gave us the occasional shade. The Weeping Wall was our first stop and Lizzy led up Serpentine. This old school slab test-piece is quite heady and technical. Small holds, smears and widely space bolts all packed in to a 5.9 rating. I had lead this climb as my intro to slab climbing 4 years prior and the goal was for Lizzy to do the same. A month off climbing didn’t help with Lizzy’s lead head so I lead the crux 2nd pitch. The ten to fifteen foot run out after the 2nd bolt on the crux section and was a bit beyond what Lizzy wanted to climb. I still managed to get off route and almost slipped traversing back to the anchor. Lizzy lead the last pitch brilliantly and we made our way down to have lunch.

Lizzy scoping the best way to run it out on pitch 1.

After eating we traversed across the top of the buttress of cracks and set up a top rope on Insomnia. A short rope helped extend the anchor over the lip and I put some directionals in on the way down. The climb has three sections. The first is a “5.9” chimney that goes for about 40 feet and ends with a bit of face climbing. This part is very insecure before you can get a stem off some face holds. Once out of the chimney and onto the face you have two options, start laybacking or get into the crack. Some opt for a combination of the two to get though the crux section.

While I had previously laybacked this part I couldn’t get myself to commit to the slick feet. Instead I jammed my way through the very tight hands (#.75 camalot) and made my way to the ok rest before the final crack. This last section of thin hands slants to the left making it quite pumpy. After a few insecure #1 camalot jams the crack opens up a bit and you get a good face foot. From here you do a few more moves and get a huge jug. A bit of traversing and easy climbing leads to the top.

After doing the crux section clean on TR we decided to head home. We were pretty trashed and I did not have enough steam to give it a go on lead. Hopefully we be back this Friday so I can lead it and get the redpoint. It is some pretty thin jamming at the crux but as long as I relax it will be fine. The gear is bomber and the fall is clean so it will be safe.