Rainbow Wall Approach and Rappelling Beta

30 10 2009

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

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

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

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

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Making the second turn.

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

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

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

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Make sure to go left and then up the hill!

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

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Roberto coming down the fixed line.

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

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

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

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

Rappelling Beta for a 70 meter Rope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60 meter Rap Beta

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

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The upper pitches.

Rainbow Wall - Lower Pitches

The lower Pitches



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

29 10 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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The pin scars require tricky pro.

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

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

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

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Stein on the first crux slab pitch.

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

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Stein the Ropegun, El Cap edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stein crimps hard and onsights a 5.11 slab.

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

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Luke gets lost in the dark Chimney…

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

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Ah the glory of El Capitan!

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


Luke looks up at the at the Monster Off-width

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

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



A photo essay from the Original Route on Rainbow Wall

25 10 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the photos from our crazy journey!

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PB and J for life!

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The Rainbow Wall. So tall, so beautiful!

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

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Two pitches down, Roberto’s turn to lead.

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A stunning 5.11 corner (P3 as we climbed it)

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

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

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

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

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Killer fingerlocks and laybacking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Strenuous steep laybacking with poor feet. Wow!

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5.11 is nice after 5.12  Lets go UP!

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

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

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Summit was so warm! Oh man we made it!

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

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Looking out at Vegas after signing the Summit Log!

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Roberto going down the fixed line below the slabs.

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

– Luke

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.


Incredible Hulk Double Header!

13 08 2009

Although Luke had already climbed on the Incredible Hulk twice with his friend Konstantin, he wanted to go back with me so I could experience the wild alpine granite and so we could do Positive Vibrations without getting lost. I was a little nervous, but I’ve done some alpine climbing before – in Tuolumne and the North Cascades – so I wasn’t too worried. Maybe I should have been a little more concerned…

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Crossing the creek on logs.

All worries aside, we woke up early on Saturday morning to drive up to Twin Lakes, where we’d ditch the car and start hiking with our big packs. The drive was uneventful and we made it to the campground/parking after a rather disappointing lunch (at least on my part) at the Burger Barn in Bridgeport. Luke worked on packing all our gear (rack, slings, QDs, tent, sleeping bags and pads, food, JetBoil, etc.) into our packs, while I added a middle mark to our rope (because Luke’s beloved Sterling ropes don’t come with middle marks, for some reason that I still don’t understand).

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Looking up at the Hulk from the approach.

We set out on the Barney Lake trail, stopping a couple times to apply bug repellent and adjust my pack suspension, since I hadn’t worn this pack for over 6 years (but, thanks to Lowe Alpine’s nifty adjustable torso length, still fits me!). After the first ~2.5 miles, we left the main hiking trail and started winding our way up the climbers’ trail that heads up-canyon towards the Incredible Hulk. We’d started hiking at about 7,000ft, and were steadily gaining elevation toward the base of the Hulk, which is at about 10,000ft. The elevation hadn’t initially bothered me, but as we got higher, I definitely started to feel it. I live in Pasadena, which lies a whopping 864ft above sea level, so I am essentially a huge altitude wimp. Especially with no acclimatization, I was definitely suffering my fair share on the latter part of the hike.

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Hiking up the talus.

However, we made it to the flat below the Incredible Hulk talus field in time to see the lovely evening light on the Hulk, having completed the hike in somewhere around 5 hours. We set up the tent, pumped some water from the stream, and quickly retreated into the tent to escape the mosquitoes while we boiled water for dinner in the vestibule. We were hungry after the long hike, so we stuffed our faces with Mountain House Chili Mac and a packet of tuna before drifting off to sleep. Our sleep was disrupted in the middle of the night by some heavy-sounding footsteps and heavy breathing. Terrified, and holding our breaths in our sleeping bags, we waited for the whatever-it-was to pass. Luke had thought it might be a bear, but I was pretty sure it sounded like it had hooves, and the breathing sounded like a horse’s heavy breathing. We laid there, wide awake and hearts pumping, as the possible-small-elk-with-breathing-problem ran by a second time. It took us a while to calm down and fall back asleep.

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Sunset on the Incredible Hulk.

Sunday morning, we’d planned on sleeping in and taking a slow, relaxing start to the day to minimize our time on route before it got in the sun. We ended up waiting a bit longer than we’d originally planned because the other party hadn’t started super early either and were moving a bit slow on the first pitches. After soloing up to the first 5.8 bulge, we roped up and Luke led up to the base of the Red Dihedral while I shivered below, nibbling on a Mojo bar and trying to recover from the nausea I’d developed while hiking. Again, huge altitude wimp…

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Lizzy leading up the Red Dihedral.

When it was my turn to climb, I felt off. My fingers and toes were numb and the backpack was quite heavy – food, 2L of water, and both our pairs of approach shoes. Plus altitude. I was feeling discouraged by the time I got to the belay, but it was my turn to lead next (no pack!) and Luke convinced me I wouldn’t want to have to do the next pitch with the pack. So, with that, I reluctantly set off into the “money pitch”, the namesake “Red Dihedral” – a sustained 5.9 left-facing corner to some crazy 5.10 stemming moves at the top. Not the most awesome pitch I’ve ever done, but pretty good.

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Luke is psyched after leading the 10a mostly hands splitter.

After this, we stepped around the corner for the remainder of the wandering, mostly easy pitches. Although the position was great, the route was a bit wandering and the heavy pack made following not-so-much fun. Also, it was really cold. Even after the route came in the sun, there were many clouds and it was pretty windy, which prevented me from ever warming up. A little bit of simul-climbing took us along the traverse to the last 2 pitches to the summit, both of which would have been cool if they weren’t so dirty. We paused on the summit (over 11,000ft of elevation) for some snacks and a few quick snapshots before carefully down-climbing to the rap station. After rappelling, we began the long hike down the West Gully on talus and scree. This was no Stawamus Chief descent trail, ladies and gentlemen.

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On the summit of the Incredible Hulk.

Back at the tent, we pumped some more water and had more Mountain House food and another tuna packet for dinner, along with some chocolate cheesecake in a packet (mmm, chocolate…). I was exhausted and very apprehensive about the next day. The Red Dihedral had been hard, maybe not technically, but definitely physically, and Positive Vibrations is much harder. There isn’t a single pitch easier than 5.10. I was worried about being able to get myself up the harder pitches with the pack.

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Looking out at the Hulk from inside the tent.

The next morning dawned warmer (even before the sun) and Luke dragged a very not-excited me back up the approach talus to the base of Positive Vibrations. I was tired and sore and was still suffering from the altitude. I have no future as a high-altitude climber and that’s ok with me.

Fortunately (although I didn’t think so at the time), the first pitch was mine to lead, which forced me to get my rock climbing face on and helped me warm up a bit, which managed to help me stay positive for the rest of the day (that, and eating more food). As Luke had suggested, I linked the first 2 pitches, with 2 5.10 cruxes, onto a nice ledge below the first 5.11 pitch. The next lead was Luke’s – the climbing was pretty easy for most of the short pitch, with some crazy, balance-y stemming towards the end, which I was able to follow without falling even with the pack on! Thankfully, since we were planning on rapping instead of hiking off, the pack was much lighter today because we didn’t have to bring the approach shoes. The third pitch (Luke’s again) was some crazy stemming up a corridor, finished by some hard, awkward moves getting over a bulge. Again, I was able to follow without falling, although I was tired by the time I reached the belay.

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Lizzy leads up the first pitch of Positive Vibrations.

The next pitch was supposed to be mine, but I told Luke I really needed to rest longer and I wasn’t having too much trouble with the pack. So Luke lead again (and ended up leading the rest of the route, too, which was just fine with me…) up some awkward cracks to the base of the crux pitch. He decided to break this pitch up into two, since the hard part (which he hadn’t done before, due to he and Konstantin getting a bit lost) was at the very end. The crux was a hard reach after some tricky thin cracks and a couple of crimps that weren’t quite as good as they looked from below.

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Taking a break to make silly faces on Positive Vibrations.

After that pitch, Luke and I were both getting pretty tired, but we forced ourselves to keep drinking water and eating our snack food to give us energy for the last two long 5.10 pitches. The last pitch was probably one of the better pitches of the route (although I was too tired to fully appreciate it) – never-ending jamming.

Once at the top (not the summit, since you can’t rap once you traverse and climb up there), we immediately started focusing on rappelling (forgetting to take the summit photo) so we would have enough energy and light to get back down safely. With our single 70m rope, we were able to make it to the ground in 12 rappels, mostly rapping down the anchors for Venturi Effect, and getting a little confused about which anchors to use closer to the ground. It only got dark for the last 2 rappels, but Luke had wisely packed 2 headlamps in the pack, so we were ok. (Update:  The best way to rap with a 70m rope from the 2nd pitch ledge is as follows. Rappel down to the optional anchor (P1 in the Supertopo), slings and maybe a rap ring on a horn but don’t stop.  Go down about 5 more feet and swing left 10+ feet to bolts. From here you should reach the ground in one rappel ~35 meters. With a 60m rope you have to use the sling anchor and then do a short 40+ foot rappel and  swing right to the bolts atop the Power Ranger start.)

Back at the tent, we devoured Mountain House pasta primavera with some tuna added in (SOOO GOOD) and laid in the tent, sore and tired but unable to fall asleep for a while.

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It sure is Incredible and Hulking.

The next morning we scraped out tired selves out of our sleeping bags, packed everything up, and hiked back to the car in a little under 3 hours. We opted to make our hungry stomachs wait a little longer and went to the Mobil Station Restaurant A.K.A. Whoa Nellie Deli instead of the Burger Barn. The fish tacos are SO GOOD!

It was an exhausting weekend. The whole Incredible Hulk experience made my other alpine climbing experiences, like Washington Pass and Cathedral Peak, seem like cragging. I mean, the approach was short, the altitude didn’t kick my butt, and the climbing was easy… Luke had taken some altitude pills (Diamox) his last couple of alpine climbs with Konstantin and thinks that that could have helped us. Although I didn’t enjoy the Red Dihedral a ton, Positive Vibrations was actually quite good – mostly crack climbing with much better rock and position.

Luke still wants to climb all the harder routes on the Hulk (there are quite a few) and I haven’t decided yet whether to go back. I guess I’d want to be in better shape so the hiking doesn’t destroy me as much and so that climbing an entire day of 5.11 (which would be the easiest of the harder routes) wouldn’t be hard. Yeah, I’m not there yet. I guess I’m a bit spoiled and I like the lack of additional mental challenge that comes from being at a high, remote climbing area (as opposed to, say, the Chief in Squamish, which is pretty much at sea level and not at all remote). But at the same time, Positive Vibrations forced me to push myself harder than I usually do – I was really fatigued on the last couple pitches, but just kept jamming.

Anyways, the Incredible Hulk, what an experience.

6 Things I Learned in Zion

8 06 2009

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A cloudy day in Zion.

(1) Places that are not Southern California have this weird thing called “Weather”.

Although here in SoCal we can just check to make sure it’s not going to be too hot where we’re going, other more exotic locales, like Zion, have actual weather that can prevent climbing. Like thunderstorms. Our first day in Zion was cloudy, with off-and-on rain and a bit of thunder and lightning. We decided to bail from 2.5 pitches up because it’s generally a Bad Idea to climb sandstone when it’s wet. Then we spent our 2nd day on a day trip to Bryce National Park waiting for the rock to dry out. When we actually got to climb on the 3rd today (Sunday) it was pretty hot and sunny with a perfect blue sky. This weather thing is pretty crazy.

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Making grumpy faces because it’s raining…

(2) Falling happens, and it’s not actually the end of the world.

The first 4 pitches of the route were mine to lead: 5.8, 5.10c, 5.10c, and 5.6. I had a lot of pre-climb jitters on Friday morning. I hadn’t been doing a ton of leading, especially multi-pitch trad leading, and I have a huge problem with getting incredibly intimidated about climbing somewhere new, especially a big deal place like Zion. But I lead the first pitch just fine and was moving on to my onsight attempt for first 5.10 pitch. Theoretically, 5.10 should be within my onsight limit. After a bit of struggling, I made it past a pumpy, weird roof section that I thought was probably the crux and got into the pod-y crack above. I got a bit nervous and clipped my cams direct instead of adding quickdraws. I tried to layback myself up to ledge above, but realized that I’d need to stem out with one of my feet to make the next move. I reached way out with my toe and then I was in the air. I think my foot slipped. My last piece (a green C3) had been below my feet and I ended up falling about 2o feet.

After we worked out some of my gear issues (I needed to put QD’s on some gear to eliminate some awful rope drag I created by falling), I shook and trembled my way past my highpoint and eventually flopped onto the ledge with the next anchor.

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Taking a break one of the belays.

(3) I need to work on not freaking out.

I should have been psyched to have made it through the part I fell on the first time, but I was mostly just mentally drained from falling. Usually I know that I’m going to fall (this was a bit of a surprise). Usually I don’t fall quite that far (it was pretty far). I did recover (after a while) to start leading the next pitch, but then it started raining (that whole “weather” thing), so we ended up bailing and hiking the Angel’s Landing trail to stash a backpack with some water on top for our next attempt.

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Following the 6th pitch, a 5.11a. Very cool.

(4) C3s are much better than I originally gave them credit for. The more I use Master Cams, the more they annoy the crap out of me. But Aliens are still by far the best small cams.

The cam I fell 20ft onto was a green C3. It was an ok placement – the two inner lobes were perfect, but the outer one was not ideal (it was a slightly flaring crack). But it held like a dream, to my surprise… We also were impressed with the placements of the green and purple C3s at various places along the route. They fit quite well in places where Aliens don’t work.

However, when we actually sent the route, I had to take twice on the 5.12b pitch, which I think I could have followed clean, were it not for the 2 Master Cams I had to take out. Let’s take a second to consider the Master Cam. While for other cams – Aliens, C4s, TCUs – you can just pull all the way on the trigger to retract the cam lobes and wiggle the cam out, Master Cams often demand quite a bit of finesse to remove. If you pull all the way on the trigger of a Master Cam, the little extra bumps on the outside edges of the cam lobes will wedge themselves in the crack. To actually take it out, you have to pull all the way and then ease back a little on the trigger. This is not always easy to do. We have blue, yellow, red, and black Master Cams and they are BY FAR the most getting-stuck cams on our rack. We do not plan to get any more of these.

But Aliens still rock the socks off any other small cams we’ve used. They fit almost anywhere, walk less than TCUs or C3s, and are easy to remove, unlike Master Cams. I know Aliens are difficult to find, but Master Cams are just not a valid substitute for the real thing.

(5) When you stash water at the top of a route, bring AT LEAST twice as much as you think you’ll want. Plus bring extra water on the climb, too. It sucks to be trying to do hard climbing on only a few sips of water per pitch.

Not sure this one requires much description. It was much warmer on the day we actually did the route than on the day we bailed, so our downsized amount of water and our half Nalgene (why? why not full? hindsight 20/20, right?) was not really adequate. I definitely had some issues with my hands and forearms cramping, but we survived to the top of the route (topping out around sunset) and hiked down the nice Angel’s Landing trail to the bus stop. Dinner was a burrito and some chips and salsa at the Mexican place in town.

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This is what Luke looks like when he’s tired and dehydrated. How many pitches are left??

(6) I need to be better at not getting tired.

I don’t know whether its my nutrition or my fitness (or both), but I just don’t have as much energy as Luke. I guess I should do more general endurance training – long runs, long gym sessions, anything involving doing stuff for a long time. Hopefully that helps.

Well, that’s about it for this post. We’ll be doing a more conventional trip report of our Zion weekend soon. Plus, keep an eye out for us in Smith Rock the last week of June and Squamish the first week of July.

Fourth of July at The Needles

7 07 2008
It’s Monday again and we’re again recovering from another trip to the Needles. This time, we headed out with Stein, Luke’s friend from the gym, and Stein’s visiting friend Traian. After a brutal 9+ hour drive from San Diego (complete with horrendous LA traffic) and a stop at Bakersfield’s sketchiest grocery store and gas station, we arrived at the trailhead camping just before midnight. Luckily for us, Traian’s friend Olivier, who had driven down from the Bay Area, had already arrived and staked out the last campsite for us.

The next morning, we packed up the gear and water and headed off on the long approach (the first hike is always the hardest because there are more hills on the way in and you have all the gear the first day). Luke and I left with a little headstart so we could rest and wait at the base of the Fire Lookout stairs.

Taking a break on the hike in.

After finally reaching the Charlatan/Witch notch, Luke and I racked up and walked up to the top of the Charlatan, where we rapped in to the base of Spooky, a classic, wild 5.9. Stein, Traian, and Olivier headed up the 3rd class approach to the base of the 2nd pitch of Airy Interlude, which they planned to do as a warm-up since their objective on the Sorcerer was still in the sun.
Luke at the base of Spooky.

Since we managed to rap to the base of Spooky in one 60m rappel, we figured we could probably climb it in a single pitch (although it’s usually 2 pitches). Luke headed up the initial handcrack/layback corner, grunted up the offwidth, and had a blast on the money part of the pitch, wild climbing between granite tufas. I struggled on the offwidth, but still enjoyed the upper part – quite unusual climbing for granite.
Looking up at Spooky from the base.

Meanwhile, the trio made good time on Airy Interlude. We had a great (though distant) view of them from our position on the Charlatan. I was pretty tired from the approach hike and grunting past the Spooky offwidth, so we relaxed on the summit of the Charlatan for a bit to eat our sandwiches.

View of the Witch from the top of the Charlatan.
Chillin’ atop the Charlatan after climbing Spooky.

Afterwards, we all met back in the notch and headed over to the east face of the Sorcerer to try 2 classic routes. Stein and crew planned on climbing the Don Juan Wall (5 pitches, 5.11b), which had a reputation for being challenging and sustained. Luke and I wanted to do Ice Pirates (2 pitches, 5.11b), a dead-end variation to Thin Ice, which we climbed last weekend with Gordon. The first pitches for both rope teams went well and Stein and Luke set off on their respective crux pitches. Stein powered and finessed his way through a pumpy layback for the send! Traian took a big whipper on the next pitch (pulling out a cam), but Olivier finished the lead for him. After this, the route took the trio around the corner, so they were out of view until summiting. Meanwhile, Luke was making good progress on the crux of Ice Pirates, managing the fiddly gear and balancey layback moves. However, near the top, the gear became sketchier and more spaced out (the flake becomes quite thin and fragile) and Luke became worried about falling and ripping pieces, so he pulled on cams a few moves until he could do the last move to the anchor, a crimpy sport-climbing-ish move. I was able to follow cleanly until this move, but fell here once before reaching the top. The route was definitely challenging and a little weird and intimidating (with tricky, questionable gear).
Olivier leading the first pitch of the Don Juan Wall.

Stein, Traian, and Olivier on top of the Sorcerer.

The Don Juan Wall was a much longer route, so Luke and I finished early than the other three. We waited for a while in the notch, which was getting quite cold, before attempting yell-o-phone communication with the other party that we were taking the car keys and hiking back so we could start cooking dinner (tofu and veggie stir-fry, one of my favorites!). It was a nice time to be hiking back – not too hot anymore and beautiful, pre-sunset views!

Beautiful view on the hike back to camp.

After struggling a bit on Ice Pirates, Luke and I decided to take an easier day on Saturday. We started the day with Witch Doctor (3 pitches, 5.10a), a route recommended by some other climbers we met. Although we were wishing we had brought our 70m rope, the pitches were fun and varied. Luke struggled a bit with route-finding on the last pitch, which wandered through crazy, often questionable rock. As we were summiting on the Witch, we saw Stein, Traian, and Olivier, who had left camp a little later than us that morning, topping out on the Wizard after climbing Yellow Brick Road, which is a classic 5.9.

On top of the Witch after climbing Witch Doctor.

Luke and I ate our sandwiches and headed back down to the notch to wait for the other three. Stein had gotten a look at the classic Tony Yaniro route Scirocco (5.12a) from the Don Juan Wall and had wanted to climb it with Luke while I took a midday break and photographed. However, when the trio finally reached the notch (they had decided to climb Spooky on their way back), Stein said he was too tired for Scirocco today. Since I had gotten a break and a short nap anyways while waiting, Luke and I decided to go for our planned 2nd route of the day, Fancy Free (3 pitches, 5.10b) on the Charlatan while the others squeezed in one last pitch (the first pitch of Thin Ice). Although the first pitch of Fancy Free was a little weird (there was some oozing at the base of the crack), the crux pitch was amazing! After a weird start, the pitch ascends a beautiful thin hands crack in a corner. The corner then changes (from left-facing to right-facing) and the crack shrinks to fingers (yellow and grey aliens, so big fingers for me) and powerful moves with only smears for feet lead to the anchor. My calves were so pumped from pushing on smears! It was definitely nice to climb a normal jam crack after doing so much laybacking on all the other routes in the Needles. The last pitch was a little weird, but it brought us to the summit just before sunset. As always in the Needles, it was beautiful.

View just before sunset from the top of the Charlatan.

Although tired, we were both psyched to have climbed such a cool route. We headed back towards camp with full packs and arrived exhausted. We were excited to find Traian and Olivier still awake, with warm dinner ready for us (returning the favor from the previous night). We enjoyed a relaxing morning of sleeping in on Sunday while Traian and Olivier woke early to hike out for one last route. Thankfully, the drive back was much less traffic-y, taking only 6 hours.

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend. I didn’t end up doing any leading, which I think was due to me being especially tired from the altitude and the hiking and especially intimidated by the Needles (I do hate being so easily intimidated – I really need to work on this), but I had a lot of fun on the routes we did.

Also, I recently got a new camera to replace my dropped Olympus. I got a Canon Powershot SD1100 IS Digital Elph (in pink!!) and a sturdy waterproof and shockproof hard plastic case for it (the kind they make for kayakers). Although I still have some work getting used to the camera, we’re pretty happy about the quality of the pictures we took. Hopefully this camera will accompany us on many adventures to come.



Needles Trip Report

30 06 2008

I’m just now starting to recover from the exhaustion of our recent weekend at the Needles, which was fun and challenging at times.

We started our trip Wednesday night, picking up Gordon at LAX around 9pm and heading straight towards the Needles. We stopped in Bakersfield for gas, somehow avoiding the terrible air quality that the fires up north have caused there (the smoke gets blown towards and trapped around Bakersfield). After a little bit of hallucinating on the Great Divide Highway (seeing deer or other small animals…), we finally reached the campground some time after 1:30am.

Needless to say, we were tired. So we took a more relaxing morning on Thursday, not worrying too much about sprinting out to the crag. After organizing and divying out gear, we headed out the 2.5 miles of hiker trail to the fire lookout.

At the fire lookout
We stopped on the climbers’ trail between the Magician and the Charlatan to warm up on Poof, a 3-pitch 5.7 on the east face of the Magician.

Gordon follows the 2nd pitch of Poof

Luke and Gordon shared the leads, with fun moves and manageable, but still exciting, runouts. There were also tons of tiny reddish orange mites that we got squished all over our hands and feet.

West Face of the Sorcerer and Charlatan from the Magician. The air is hazy because of the fires.

After eating a late lunch, we headed up the fire tower stairs to chat with Margee for a while. Afterwards, we re-hiked the climbers’ trail to our packs and continued to the notch between the Witch and the Charlatan, where we re-racked for an afternoon/evening ascent of the classic Airy Interlude (5.10a, 3 pitches). I got the first lead of a long (Luke and Gordon had to start climbing so I could reach the belay ledge and we were using 60’s) 5.9 pitch that was marred by some intimidating moves above questionable gear and long-ish runouts near the top. This really tired me out, so I asked Luke to lead the crux “Airy Interlude” pitch, which was pumpy, wild, and fun. I definitely want to go back (skipping the first pitch via a 3rd class scramble) so I can lead it. I did lead the final pitch (5.9), which Luke and I had climbed before via Igor Unchained. It was fun, with interesting moves and nice fingerjams, much more fun and less stressful than the first pitch.

After successfully rappelling to the ground after sunset, we headed back to the campground (with the car keys, this time), arriving around 10:30pm to cook dinner – another late night.

Gordon leading the 3rd pitch of Poof

The next morning had another slightly late-ish start because of our late return on Thursday. However, armed with only our refilled camelbaks and more food (we stashed our packs at the Witch-Charlatan notch), the hike went much faster. Our plan was to climb Thin Ice, a classic 5.10b (3 pitches) on the Sorcerer, Fancy Free (5.10a, 3 pitches, on the Charlatan), and Spooky (another classic, 2 pitch 5.9 on the Charlatan).

Luke and I at a belay on Poof

Another party was just starting on Fancy Free, so we decided to start with Thin Ice. Luke headed up the tricky layback, rested on the ledge, and pulled through the powerful 10b crux sequence for jugs that lead to the anchor. As Gordon and I followed the pitch, my camera somehow unclipped from Gordon’s harness and fell at least 40 feet to the ledge we’d started on. (R.I.P. camera… although it wasn’t totally obliterated, the lens cap mechanism is broken and the compartment that holds the memory card was damaged). Oh well. I’ve always thought that one should never be really attached to anything that you clip to your harness, so I didn’t let it stress me out.

Leading the 1st pitch (5.9) of Airy Interlude.

Gordon hasn’t done quite as much crack and trad climbing as Luke and I have, so he found the steep cracks a little challenging, but still managed to make it up the pitch with only one fall. The second pitch started up an intimidating-looking flare. Luke thrutched his way up the flare before it yielded to easier moves. I had a size advantage on the pitch since my narrow shoulders allowed me to reach both hands and both feet into the finger and thin hand jams in the crack in the back of the flare, while Gordon’s wider shoulders meant he had to use the insecure layback instead of the flare. The last pitch headed up some easier, though still awkward, corners to the top of the Sorcerer, where we relaxed for yet another late lunch. By the time we got to our packs, it was already past 5pm and we were pretty tired from the route, so we decided to call it a day early and get back to camp before dark.

Luke leading the 1st pitch (10b) of Thin Ice

We decided to try something a little easier for our last day so Gordon could lead more pitches, so we selected Magic Dragon, a 9ish pitch 5.8 that heads up the long southwest face of the Magician. Having re-stashed out packs in the saddle before the fire lookout, we had even less far to hike, which was nice. We managed to make our way to the base of the route without too much trouble. Luke lead up the first 2 pitches, which had a ton of loose rock on the belay ledges. He also nearly pulled off a torso-sized block at the top of the second pitch. Worrying that it would become dislodged on Gordon or I, he decided to trundle it (there were no parties below us). Although Gordon and I were out of the fall line of the block, I still got hit on the nose by a high-velocity ricochet fragment, which lead to a little cut and some bruising, but thankfully no broken nose. Gordon lead the next pitch to the base of a 5.4 slab. Although I had planned on leading this, I was getting a headache from my rockfall collision, so I asked Luke to lead it instead. With a little confusion about belay placements, we made our way onto the easy slabs on the upper part of the Magician and one final, fun pitch right up onto the fire lookout (to the surprise and pleasure of the tourists up there at the time). We stopped there to have lunch at 4pm (late again) before heading back to the campground for a final time.

Since we had some extra time (back at the campground by 5:30pm), we decided to take advantage of our location in Sequoia Nat’l Forest to go see some giant sequoias. We drove down the highway a bit to the “Walk of 100 Giants”, where we saw a ton of HUGE trees.

Luke in front of a huge Sequoia
All of us inside one of the trees!
A final early morning on Sunday got us on the road back to LAX, with a few stops on the way, including a trip to In-N-Out to complete Gordon’s California experience. It was a great trip!

An Idyllwild Weekend

3 06 2008

This past week I had my off Friday and due to some technology problems on Thursday I got to leave work early and get a pseudo 4 day weekend! With finals quickly approaching I surprised Lizzy by coming to LA on Thursday and we packed up and headed out on Friday to Idyllwild.

We made good time on the 10 and the 243 but got a bit confused about where the proper campground was. There are five campgrounds within 10 miles of Idyllwild. We were looking for the cheapest, Fern Glen, but could not at the time remember the name. We took the turn for the main group of campgrounds but the scenery looked all wrong. So we kept going expecting a turn on our way to Idyllwild but to no avail. Worried that the campground would be full we turned around and headed 6 windy miles back to explore the first set of campgrounds further. After driving around for a while on steep and switch backing roads we found managed to find the $10 campground. The cost per night was quite varied and we found $20, $15, $12 and $10 per night.

After sorting the rack we set off to suicide for some afternoon crack climbing. We still had two or three hours of daylight and though we could get a few cracks in before dark. After we parked our car we couldn’t find Lizzy’s approach shoes. They had vanished and the approach was not well suited to flip-flops. We turned the car inside out and could not find them. We both distinctly remembered her bringing them down to the lawn and setting them down when I was packing the car. However neither of us could remember her putting them in the car or ever seeing them in the car. Possibly we had left them one of the campgrounds so we went in search of her fairly new CTC’s. With no luck and much time wasted we even tried to buy a new pair that night but the store was closed. Instead of climbing we explored Idyllwild and had dinner at the Idyllwild Pizza Company, which was quite tasty.We got up early the next day, picked up a new pair of shoes at Nomad Ventures and hustled up to the northern side of Suicide rock. We passed a few parties on the steep approach and Lizzy was happy to have shoes on her feet. We started with Flower of High Rank, shown above, which was supposed to be one of the best 5.9’s in Idyllwild and in the state. I decided to lead the crack in one long 200 foot pitch using the harder right crack exit above the tree. The climb had a fun and varied finger crack that split at the tree and became a 3″ wide crack on the right side leading up to a roof. The bottom of the climb was balancy and fun and the tree provided a nice rest before switching to the right crack. I got the roof quickly and was stumped by what I found. The crack above was quite flaring and without a good foothold would not yield easy passage to the slab above. After much struggling and going up and down I was able to use some face feet and reach to the left crack. This gave me enough balance to get my right foot over the roof and allowed me to climb the slabby grove. Fun large flakes lead to the top and after setting up a belay I brought Lizzy up. Full value for 5.9 but not necessarily one of the best I had ever done.

Next we headed around the corner to Johnny Quest. I had been told this climb was excellent and I am a big fan of finger cracks. I was expecting it to be a bit harder at 10b but the climb fit my style perfectly and it was my favorite of the weekend. We soloed 50 feet of 5.2 to belay at the tree by the base of this short beauty. A tricky opening dihedral gave way to some jugs and then a thin finger crack. Wonderful pinscars and constrictions with good feet gave way to a ledge 20 feet higher, which is too bad since I could have kept going since the crack was so fun!

I lowered from the bolted anchor and Lizzy gave it a burn on TR. Anxious to climb some more routes we both rapped off and made our way back around the corner. Feeling good on 10b I felt ready for the route of the day, Etude, 11a. It was longer and steeper but I was feeling good on the thin finger locks of Johnny Quest. As I made my way up to the piton protected crux I was shocked to find no holds. The crack was non existent and progress could only be made by stemming and crimping up two grooves for 10 feet before another hold and anther pin appeared. Unable to see a viable sequence and scared of a potential 20 foot fall onto an old fixed pin I precariously aided through the crux. Standing on the highest pin and using a marginal nut to make a blind 2 lobe placement. I was able to clip the high pin but had lost most of my lead mojo.

The final thin hand and finger crack to the anchor was easy once I got my feet up above the high pin and I set up a TR so Lizzy could give it ago. I had confidence that her slab skills and balance would allow her to find a way up the climb. Using tricky sequence with the arête she was able to alternate pulling on the left and the right grooves to slowly stem her feet up. Despite falling off she was able to link all of the different sections and made it to the top. Excited by her success I gave it a go and eked my way up the grooves. While I failed to exhibit her grace I was able to barely make it to the top without falling. Going back I am sure it would be an exciting lead.

We did a few more easer 250 foot slab climbs using the full extent of our 70m rope and a bit of simul climbing and then retreated to the tent. Below Lizzy points to Suicide rock from her high stance on Tahquitz.

Unsure of having to return to San Diego to work on Sunday we got up late and made our way to town to check voicemail. Still sore from all of the hiking and descending from the previous day we enjoyed some Raspberry pastry bread from the local grocer. After giving up on work we made our way up to Humber Park and started the steep hike up Tahquitz. The trail seemed better than we both remembered and we made good time to Lunch Rock.Veering left we set our sights on the bulge routes home to the Vampire and Super Pooper. The base of this area is super slabby and leads up to a series of ledges. We soloed up the first 100 feet of 3rd and 4th class and then Lizzy started leading up to our ledge. Unsure of the correct way to go we made it up to a good ledge right below the start of Super Pooper. Despite the suggestion of moving the belay up another 40 feet I decided that we had enough rope and I did not want to waste the time. The 40 feet was quite easy so I only placed 2 pieces so there was minimal rope drag.

I was not quite mentally ready for the bulges and took over an hour to lead this 200 ft pitch. The first crux was quite cool and involved a transition over one roof via a set of crimps and a crazy arête to a small ledge/jug. Protecting this was tricky and after psyching my self up I was able to get through it. After standing on this ledge for a while I summed the courage again to get through the crux bulge. An awkward sized crack with no feet below it allowed passage over the last bulge. Thruching through a work able sequence my foot popped mid way but I was able to stay in my jam. In the photo above Lizzy approaches the belay after the crux pitch.

I was able to link the next two pitches but since due to improper slinging and getting a rope stuck in a crack I had horrendous rope drag for the final slab. Standing on a ledge with decent prow 10 feet below, I pulled up 10 more feet of rope and smeared my way up the final slab, pulling more rope up from good stances. The angle quickly eased and we were at the top! We ate lunch and enjoyed the views. A superb climb with tricky movement and fun jamming.

Despite getting lost on the decent we made it back to the car and returned to San Diego. We had split up on the way down so that I could get our packs from the base of the route but we both managed to go to the same wrong way and met up after I got our packs. It was nice to be out in the woods and camping for a weekend! School is over for Lizzy soon and I hope we can get out more in the months to come!


– Luke

Wacky Weather Weekends

28 05 2008

The last two weekends we spent time exploring some areas that we had not been to. Our efforts were motivated by the crazy weather systems that have been moving through California and the rest of the country. One week of crazy hot weather was followed by the coldest temps we have had in two months. Traveling between the mountains and the desert we were able to get in a bit of climbing both last weekend and this weekend.

Last weekend were above 90 degrees in the Santa Monica Mountains so drove up to Big Bear Lake, home of the Holcomb Valley Pinnacles. Big Bear, sitting above 7000 feet is also home to a bunch of ski resorts that are very popular among the LA hoards.

With a late start and a long drive we were barely climbing by noon. Luckily the cliff had chosen was going into the shade and was fairly uncrowned. We enjoyed closely bolted sport climbs on well featured granite. The rock had fun holds but the quality was less than desirable. On one of my projects for the day I managed to make the start a bit harder when the hold under my foot flaked off the wall. The good right hand crimp used for the crux start sequence on Road Crew was now half the size. Luckily I was still able to do the move with the smaller hold.

We were able to climb almost all of the routes on the East face of orbit rock and determined that upon a return visit we would need to seek out some of the other crags in hope of better rock quality.

For Memorial Day weekend we had planned on taking a relaxing trip to the Needles. This would fit with the upward trend in the temps and it would nice to escape the crowds and enjoy some remote camping. This was not in the cards for us as the forecast showed plunging temps and possibly snow fall. How could it be 70 in the mountains one weekend and 30 the next? To make matters worse it seemed that the main gate to the road to the Needles was still closed which firmly pushed this plan from our minds. A rainy forecast for most of SoCal on Saturday kept us grounded in San Diego. A few of our brave friends, Jamie and Nikki ventured out to Idyllwild for some bouldering at Black Mountain. You can see in the photo above that they found fresh snow! Despite the wet and cold conditions Jamie reported that they had a great time!
On Sunday we made the short drive and long hike out to El Cajon Mountain. This crag was the crown jewel of San Diego sport climbing before one of the climbers became disgruntled and chopped a good number of the quality routes. He even went so far as to break holds on one route that had been rebolted after he had chopped it. Thanks to some information from some of the more knowledgeable locals we were able to sort out some climbs to do that were still fully bolted.
The day was still quite overcast and we though there were thunder claps on our hike in. Luckily for the resounding bangs were just echoes in the valley from some locals going at it with their rifle. We were the only ones at the main wall on Sunday but were assaulted with noises of gunshots for the first half of the day.
The granite of El Cajon Mountain is very featured and much more solid than what we found on Orbit Rock. There were wonderful patina crimpers and incut flakes studding the walls. We managed 7 pitches between 4 routes before the weather turned to cold to be multipitching. Our timing ended up working very well as we ran into two of the route developers on our way out. They had been climbing near by and were able to give us suggestions on good routes to do.

Monday the weather did not significantly improve so we headed south and east to the desert near the Mexican border. Our sights were set on another granite sport climbing crag called the Valley of the Moon. With the trusty Rav4 we hoped that we could make it in the 4wd road to the crag.
We managed the steep drive up the saddle that lead into the Valley and were just starting down the road when another Jeep came up behind us and suggested we scout the next section of road. This was slightly worrisome since we had just spent the last 10 minutes figuring out how to get the Rav4 through a set of large rocks on the road. The Rav is quite able with AWD but has fairly low clearance for a small SUV which is made worse by the large running boards.
We hopped out of the car so we could preview the “crux” section of the approach. We were greatly saddened to see a steep downhill studded with large ruts and boulders. Our first look revealed that we had no chance and we turned around. Even if we could have made it down without doing too much damage to our car it would be even more difficult to come back up and we were in the middle of no where. On our drive back out we got stopped by Board Patrol who check our car for immigrants. They were courteous and let us go on our way. The road goes practically all the way to the boarder and one of the cliffs is half in the US half in Mexico.

In the hope of salvaging the day and still doing a bit of climbing we went to the McCain valley which was on the way back to San Diego. We did not have a bouldering pad, which is what the valley is mainly known for so we headed to Lowenbrau Pinnacle which is the only leadable rock. With only quickdraws and a rope we managed to only do a bit of climbing. Despite blue skies and sunny weather constant wind made it quite cold expediting our return to San Diego.

I am excited for a bit more regularity in the weather so bring on the summer! All photos are from El Cajon Mountain.

– Luke