A ‘Brief’ Personal Climbing History

2 09 2009

This post will be far from “brief”, but considering how much I could write about each route I consider personally significant, this is short. The feeling of a prized send, a realized dream or even a hard attempt is difficult to describe so I will give a simple overview of  my many years of climbing.

I come from an outdoorsy family.  My parents both ski-ed, were avid scuba divers and enjoyed the outdoors. Despite this I grew up with a funny concept of camping since we always road-tripped in a ’78 Chevy van that my dad had converted to have a bed and a special sleeping spot for me. I remember the first time I saw a tent and was confused about what it was for. I had my special fort in the van where I slept, and I had never camped ‘outside’.


Too cool, wearing cutoff Gramicci’s and wearing Oakleys…


On one of the many “solos” at Marymoor. I often wouldn’t touch the ground for an hour  or more.

In middle school I was not as outdoorsy as the other kids despite going on various hiking trips around Washington. I became a bit more “normal” in 8th grade when I started playing Ultimate Frisbee and climbing indoors at Vertical World in Fremont (before it was torn down to create the Adobe Complex). After 8th grade I was pretty hooked on indoor climbing and my dad and I almost built a climbing wall at our house.

Before going to high school I took a 3 week Outward Bound course in Oregon. We spent a week rafting the full Deschutes River and then spent. Two weeks learning how to mountaineer (use ice axes) and eventually climbed the Middle Sister.  While I had been climbing indoors and on artificial outdoor structures Outward Bound was most likely my first real rock climbing. We top roped some easy cliff band in our La Sportiva Makalu’s and it was fun. We came back later that night with a full moon and rappelled down the wall exciting!

When ya gotta Aid you just gotta

Aiding up the Monkey’s Face on our 9 hour (yikes) 5 person ascent of the West Face Variation.

In high school one of my first friends was a climber and had been climbing for years with his father. Through my friend Hartley and the outdoor program at Overlake I slowly learned about climbing outside. During the summer I spent my time at Marymoor park bouldering, traversing and soloing on the climbing wall there.  I often would spend 4 days a week climbing still a bit oblivious to going to a crag to lead routes on my own.


The door to my bouldering success at Bucknell.


Our new routes board at the Bucknell Climbing Wall.

From junior to senior year in high school my focus on climbing shifted towards ultimate frisbee but I was still enthusiastic about the sport and upon graduation bought my first set of cams.  Until this point I had been climbing indoors on ropes and leading a bit of sport and trad outdoors but had never really bouldered. I did traversing and short boulder problems but I didn’t think too much of it.

The Summit!!

Gordon points to the summit of Tower II on our climb of the Yellow Spur

College brought about a big change in my climbing as I now had access to a small climbing wall on campus and could climb almost 5 days a week (seen above).  Due to the height of the wall we mainly bouldered and in the first month of college I went on my first outdoor bouldering trip.  My strength increased a lot my freshman year and my climbing took another big step when I ended up working at Vertical World in Redmond the summer of 2004.  My life was climbing and this year saw my biggest increases thus far. I went from V1 to V4 (indoors) and lead my first trad 5.9 (Godzilla at Index) sent my first 5.11b (Aborigine at Exit 38) and did my first 5.9 multipitch leading all the pitches (The Yellow Spur in El Dorado canyon). I returned to college much stronger and full of power.


Working up Five Finger Discount at the Red River Gorge.

Sophomore Year went fairly quickly and my sport climbing was taking off. I broke further into 5.11 at the Red River Gorge and the Obed but my trad climbing was lagging. I had taken a few trips to the Gunks but had yet to make it to 5.10.  I climbed my first 5.10+ crack at the T-Wall outside of Chattanooga but couldn’t figure out the Gunks. I had been thinking of studying abroad and decided that going to Melbourne would be a great academic challenge and would allow me to go to “school” at Mt. Arapiles.


Flashing It’ll Never Fly at Mount Arapiles 23/24  (5.11+)

Victoria, the Australian state where Melbourne is located, has a strict trad ethic and taught me a lot while I was there. These 6 months of 2005 brought my trad climbing to a new level as I moved into 5.11 routes. I learned how to place gear faster and found the relaxed zone required for hard and runout routes.  A big mental change also took place as I learned to accept the local  standards for climbing style.

The route the changed my mind was a popular toprope on the Kitten Wall above the Watchtower Faces called Hard Nipples. At 22 (11b) this route was at my limit and after doing it clean on TR I wanted to lead it. The gear was beyond tricky and I was pissed that it had not been bolted. I steamed at my partner but he told me that since it was possible to be lead on gear, it should be lead on gear. A month or so later after leading a few 21s and 22s I realized the route was in my reach.  I toproped the route again and figured out the gear and was amazed that I could find something that would work.

New Zealand 05 - Mark 005

Way excited to be at Castle Hill!

The first boulder problem would have to be soloed to about the 20 foot mark but I knew I could do it and committed to the techy moves and reached the ledge. In when two cams and I started up the steep section. one more cam and then the crux. Grab a left hand pocket and make a full span right to a good hold. Reach back and plug a red TCU in the pocket and work up into a roof. A blind yellow alien above your head and then the final face crux. A few moves get your feet over the roof and then easy moves lead to a bolted anchor. I had sent and in doing so had changed my perspective on bolts and had done my first 22 gear lead!

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Learning how to Mantel at Castle Hill, New Zealand


Attempting my first 24 at the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia

Returning to the states I quickly lost my trad lead head but still had the power from the longest time of climbing I have ever had. I put this power to good use on a trip to Horsepens 40 in January 2006 and sent my first two V6’s and a V7.  Also on this trip while in the Obed I climbed my first 12a a long time goal that had evaded me in Australia despite doing my first 24 (5.11d) in New Zealand. From November 2005 until the 2nd week of January 2006 I had climbed almost 50 days culminating with a first place finish in Mens Advanced at my first ABS comp at SportRock.


Toproping my first 5.11 crack – at Mount Buffalo, Australia

Dirty South 06 - Gordon 447

Going for the crux deadpoint on Undertow (my first 12a) at the Obed.

Sadly all my my climbing and enthusiasm would start having consequences in 2006. Psyched to climb as hard as possible on an upcoming trip to the Red River Gorge I started intense campus training. The day after a session of two finger campusing I had pain in my left ring finger. I properly took a week off and slowly eased back into climbing with a month before my trip. Over the next many years my finger has given me varying amounts of trouble. I was able to climb fairly well at the Red River Gorge and returned to college psyched as ever for the next bouldering comp, this time the Mammut Gravity Brawl in New Jersey. My friend Adam and I had a blast but during the comp but I dislocated my right shoulder on a V7 that where I had campused into an Iron Cross and was trying to do the next move.


Hanging out at the Mammut Gravity Brawl after dislocating my shoulder.

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Hanging out and taking photos at Governor’s Stables.

My shoulder only partially subluxed and in 6 months I was climbing fairly well again and have since sent harder problems and routes than before the injury. The main thing that changed was my climbing style. I was no longer so willing to dyno freely and took a lot more time to think about the moves and make sure I would not re-injure my shoulder. This mental change brought with it a bit more hesitation and fear and still effects me today.


Flashing the classic Ro-Shampo 5.11d/12a at the Red River Gorge.

NRG Nov 06  - 119

Flashing Bourbon Sauce 5.11d at the New River Gorge

(My ambition to do this route was  inspired by a trio of women who sent it when I was at the crag 3 years earlier.)

After healing up and sending a handful of 5.12’s by the end of 2006 I turned my attention to bouldering for my senior year. I wanted to climb V7 again and worked on power. My crowning achievements from that year were The Bubbler V6 and Iron Lion V7 at Haycock Mountain.  After graduating and working on bouldering for a little while including a send of Blue Flame v7 at Tramway I switched back to roped climbing. The blue flame had taken many tries over two days and had done a number on my shoulder.

First day of attempts on Iron Lion V7.

Haycock 4-14-07 - 169

Many months later sending my hardest boulder problem yet.

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Loving the Triassic Diabase of The Bubbler V6

Climbing on routes I could still push my limits climbing 5.12 and didn’t have to worry about moves that were as taxing as bouldering. In 2007 Lizzy became my main climbing partner and we focused on sport climbing to train for a trip to the Red River Gorge for the Petzl Roc Trip. This training was very effective and Lizzy saw large strength increases and I onsighted my first 12a. At the RRG I onsighted another 12a and Lizzy flashed her first 11b.  Onsight climbing is tricky business and I was happy to have achieved another long time goal.

In 2008 we started the year with a lot more trad climbing and Lizzy attempted here first 5.12 leads at Indian Creek. By 2008 I had adjusted to the climbing scene in San Diego and found a strong and committed partner. During the summer of 2008 I stared to have real endurance and spent a bit more times on harder routes. I managed to climb my first 5.12c and 5.13a and turned my focus towards my super project Equinox.


Putting up a second wall in my training room back in Maryland.

Equinox as I have written in the past was the hardest project that I have ever attempted. When I first tried it I hated it soo much was entirely frustrated and uninterested. Lizzy persisted in her desire to climb the route and we spent many Equinox days out in J-Tree until in November when I finally did it clean on TR. My goal was an ascent with preplaced gear (which fit the remaining time in the J-Tree season) and I got it down to one or two falls on lead. One particular week my skin was particularly soft and I was trying so hard that I removed half of the skin from all my fingers. This put a dent in my schedule so we took some time to boulder and I came back full of power.  The day of my redpoint I barely made it out of bed not wanting to make the drive to J-Tree. When I sent,  after 3 false starts or failed attempts, the route fit together perfectly and I made it to the anchors with a mild pump but fully in control. This was an excellent ending to 2008 and I could not have been happier.

I had been taking steps towards climbing harder routes and my goal for 2009 was to develop more power and break into the 5.13 grade. Since Equinox had been my first 5.12 trad route I wanted to keep up with my crack climbing skills and try to progress on other routes in J-Tree. 2009 has been quite the wild ride since I have been injured since late January and have been unable to crimp well with my left hand. In recent months I have gained back fitness and had an excellent trip in Indian Creek with multiple 5.11 trad onsights. I was able to jam without harming my finger. Now in August I am starting to feel powerful again and have started campus training. Having done a few 12a’s quickly I think that I am ready to try some harder projects.

Since life is a bit up in the air I have yet to commit to a given route. My motivation in May was very high for a trip to Zion. I had one of my best trad climbing days with a 5.12 and two 5.11 onsights.  My motivation is currently on the Incredible Hulk where I had an amazing ascent of a variation of Positive Vibrations and then went back and onsighed the standard finish pitches.

With a strong showing this past weekend at Pine Creek, including a 5.12a onsight, I think that I may beable to make some progress in 2009.

Thanks for reading aren’t you glad it was `brief` 😉

– Luke


Technical Trickery, A Pine Creek Photo Essay

26 08 2009

I like granite and I like bolts so this past weekend at Pine Creek was a blast. We clipped a ton of bolts on the long well protected routes of the Mustache and Ministry walls before heading to Gotham City at the Owens River Gorge for the final half-day.

The following photo from RC.com was the first time I saw or heard  anything about Pine Creek.  I had either just moved to California or was in the process of doing so and was psyched to see a pretty shot of a “local” area  and it stuck in my mind. During my two years here I have met the climber, Leah, who you have perhaps seen photos of in earlier blogs, the photographer, her husband, and the route developer Louie Andersen.  All of these things secured Pine Creek, in my head, as a possible destination.

Leah on Atomic Gecko (photo by Andre via RC.com)

I read Pine Creek was great in the late summer,  since the walls go into the shade at 10,  and ended up getting some useful beta from friends, John and Shannon prior to our trip. Lizzy and I drove up from Pasadena to meet our friends Jamie and Nikki from Santa Barbara who had arrived the night before.

The weekend was great and I focused on onsighting routes and trying hard. My determination was rewarded with a 5.12 onsight which confirms that my fitness is returning. My other highlight of the weekend was climbing The Megaplex, a sustained three pitch 5.11c. Each pitch had a memorable section and I happily onsighted the 1st and 3rd, with my friend Jamie onsighting the 2nd. It was very cool to do a team free ascent since neither of us fell on our way to the top.

Jamie and I ended the second day with back to back ascents of Flamethrower which featured a techy slab up to a crazy steep roof, very wild for granite. Earlier in the day Lizzy had redpointed Window Shopper for her 6th 11c!  It was very cool to have everyone in the party send this climb and both of the ladies really did well with the technical crimping.

I found the routes on the Mustache wall to be very fun and the granite was nice and sticky. The two routes we did on the Ministry Wall were totally different than the Mustache wall and the hold and rock type dictated a different set of moves. I thought Never Believe was an awful warm-up and  just wasn’t very fun.  Burning Inside, on the other hand, was quite excellent  and featured very cool movement on a variety of holds that always seemed to face the wrong direction.

Enjoy the photos!

– Luke

Pine Creek - Aug 09 - 009

Jamie takes a warm-up lap on The Becky Route, 10a

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Jamie figuring out the no hands standup sequence on a fun 11a, Mr. Ridiculous

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Jamie figures out a technical sequence on Window Shopper

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Lizzy starting up Window Shopper on her 1st lead go.

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Lizzy works her way though small crimps and tricky foot sequences.

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Lizzy pulls through one of several fun mantles on the upper part of Window Shopper.

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Nicole on the way to her first 5.11 redpoint!

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Nicole tries not to get too excited about crushing small crimps.


Luke on his way to to a 12a onsight!


Luke manages not to fall off the crux of Stone Cold Fusion.

Day 2:


Lizzy starts up Never Believe the on the Ministry wall.


Jamie enjoying his flash of Burning Inside at the Ministry Wall.


Jamie sets off on the second pitch of The Megaplex

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Jamie works his way up the fun slab of Flame Thrower


Luke checks out the intimidating roof on Flame Thrower.


Luke pulls the lip on his onsight of Flame Thrower.

Escaping the Summer heat at Altitude: Climbing at Keller Peak and Whitney Portal

18 08 2009

The last few weeks of July were particularly hot in SoCal and Lizzy and I have escaped to the higher altitudes for a bit of fresh air.

Many weeks back, the day before Lizzy returned to Cali, I took a short trip up to Keller peek with Josh. It was pretty hot but we got a bit of bouldering in and did some exploring around Dinosaur rock. Josh had been waiting at the campsite while I battled traffic and informed me that the middle of the day was HOT.

As the sun fell low in the sky I got excited to take advantage of the cool temps for a possible first ascent of a dirty finger crack on the side of lower dinosaur rock. We ran back to the car and got headlamps and gear and I proceeded to make my way up the crack covering Josh with dirt and granite in the process. The light faded but  luckily I had borrowed Josh’s head lamp and made it to the top bleeding, covered in dirt, but happy.

My headlamp, which I had given Josh, had almost run out of batteries and as I struggled on the climb Josh was slowly slipping into darkness. Once off belay I set up a rappel to clean the gear and Josh walked around the back to clean my rap anchor.  I was psyched to have done a climb already as we quickly drove to town to get pizza.

The next day Josh was super excited and was awake at 5am. Since the cliff was so close we were climbing before 6 and had finished up by 10:30. This ended up working perfectly since the heat was unbearable and did not go well with the sharp granite. I was able to headpoint a climb that I had top roped last time for most likely its first lead. If this climb was in bishop and had a slightly flatter landing it would likely be a highball. A perfect jug gave way to a horizontal crack that provided the only gear to protect the crux. We thought that I could fall on the first few moves safely but as I got towards the top a fall should be avoided. One final cam protected the mantel to the anchor and made the climb safe enough. I did a few runs on TR to figure out the foot holds and then succeeded on the lead on my first try! (phew)

Josh had looked at a very pretty line on the back wall that followed a series of crescents past 4 bolts. I rapped down it to place the QD’s and Josh gave it a go from the ground. He managed to figure out the first section but got stuck at the crux between the 2nd and 3rd bolts. I struggled much more on the first section but found some hidden crimps and made it to the top.  After a rest, where Josh tried a few other routes, and another try on TR I was able to redpoint this fun route just barely sticking the crux bump and keeping my weight low on the following sloper traverse.  This was our last route and a great end to the day!

Climbing - Summer 09 010

Looking up from the base at the crazy knobs on Boney Fingers.

Fresh off getting her wisdom teeth out, Lizzy wanted to take it easy, the Sunday she returned from Seattle,  so she brought her bike to San Diego so we could go for a long ride. I had recently been convinced to start triathlon training by a friend and I was excited to do a bit of extra biking with Lizzy.

Climbing - Summer 09 011

A pretty Sierra view from the 1st belay

The following weekend we were to go to Whitney Portal to climb Boney Fingers, MSMR, and Ghost Rider. This was a lot of pitches but they all seemed doable. I had recently started campus training with my friend Stein and got in a workout before we got on the road Friday morning. This was a bad idea, since my body did not have any time to recover. I felt fine on the hike in to Boney Fingers, but my body shut down as soon as I started climbing. The 5.11 direct start was beyond me and I pulled on the bolts to get established in the crack.  It seemed odd that there were only 3 bolts since there was serious ground fall potential before you get in your first piece.  I managed to work my way up the crack, feeling way out of shape, but didn’t fall and made it to the knob anchor.

Climbing - Summer 09 016

Looking out from the stone House as described in our directions.

The 2nd pitch was much more fun and was a staggering 70 meters!! I didn’t have nearly enough quickdraws and placed all but one of my cams. The last many feet were protected by small nuts and thankfully I didn’t feel too much rope drag with my Sterling Ion.  I would suggest the following rack: 1 blue alien, 3 green aliens, 5 yellow aliens (or more!), 3 grey aliens, 1 or 2 – .5 camalot,  2 –  .75 camalot.  Also bring many small nuts, at least 10 qds and a handful of slings. 70 meters is a long way! We followed the advice on MP.com and I rapped first, fetched the 2nd rope which Lizzy pulled up and then double rope rapped.

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Lizzy takes a break on our way in to climb on Lone Pine Peak

We did this in time to get back before dark and got ready for an early-ish departure the next morning. I was very excited for SuperDike (aka MSMR) since I knew all the first ascentionists. After an exciting drive (narrow road with steep dropoff on one side) we made it to the “trail head” and made good time to the stone house on a very steep but decent trail. After leaving the stone house we followed a very good trail of cairns for a long way until they disappeared. We had notes from two friends but the approach photos had somehow not printed. Despite this we continued cross country up the hill hoping to rediscover the trail. About an hour and a few false cairns later we found the correct trail much further uphill than we had been.


We thought the hiking would never end as we trekked towards the face above…


A nice photo we took of the route  not knowing where the climb was…

We had been hiking for over 2.5 hours at this point and were not quite sure of our destination. We feared that it was a far off wall (1st photo above) since we could not see a large dike on the face closest to us (photo directly above). We had spotted something similar to the “sea of knobs” noted in the topo but could not at the time figure out how the route would lead to this feature. With much doubt we continued until a large talus field noted in the directions at which point we had reached the 3 hour mark. The day had been getting progressively hotter and we were still over an hour from our objective.

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The less obvious upper trail.

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The well traveled but incorrect lower trail with a misleading HUGE cairn.

Lizzy and I made the hard decision to turn around, which was the right one, since we had lost so much time already and likely would run out of water and be hiking back in the dark. Determined not to lose our way we managed to take the high trail all the way back to the stone house. We found that we had made an initial error (going low on the good trail past the huge cairn) versus staying high on a worse trail. Hopefully these photos will help the next party choose the right trail.

The key photo that I didn’t print out from SummitPost

Once we hiked out and drove back to Whitney Portal (with a stop at McDonalds for a McFlurry!) we had many hours left in the day. With a single small pack of water and food Lizzy and I decided to go as far as we could up the Meysan Lake trail. It was so nice to know where we were going after being lost for over an hour approaching Lone Pine Peak. It was so chill to have such a small pack and we had a much better time chatting instead of the constant, “AH, we are lost where do we go” from before.  The hike was pretty and while we did not make it to the lake we saw some pretty rocks on the way up. We had forgotten our watch and headlamps so we turned  around early to make sure we were back before dark.

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A happy Lizzy and Luke, no longer lost!

Motivation was a bit low after being lost for a while so we drove back early for some relaxation on Sunday. Overall it was a bunch of drivingnd not much climbing abut it was still very cool to see Whitney Portal. There is so much granite and it makes me want to go back to try and put up some new routes. Now that we figured out where MSMR is I will have to go back for another attempt!



Mutli-Pitch Bliss at Mount Charleston

12 08 2009

Most of the time I think of myself as a sport climber but I really enjoy being high above the ground. Mutli-pitching takes one beautiful places but it is usually reserved for trad climbers. Two weekends ago we indulged and brought only quickdraws and slings while climbing Cathedral Rock at Mt. Charleston.  Despite the many other cool climbs we did during the weekend the three pitch Cathedral Route was the highlight for me.

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3rd classing up some loose choss.

Our weekend started on a negative but enlightening note. Despite arriving Friday afternoon and driving around for more than an hour to the five campgrounds we were unable to find an open. Most of the sites were empty but reserved for that night. In the future it seems that reservations are a MUST HAVE for the the summer at Mt Charleston. We pitched our tent at the free area near Mary Jane falls and took the short walk into the Mary Jane crag since we had lost so much time driving around.

The weather was perfect in the shade up at Mt Charleston and it was nice to be a bit chilly in August.  We both tried to warm-up on an awkward 5.8 and then started working our way through to some of the harder routes.  I soon got on the namesake climb, Mary Jane, and it was amazing. I thought that Lizzy might be able to flash it and so as I climbed I tried to let her know what the moves were like and where the holds were.  This added to the pump but I still managed the onsight. With all the looking up Lizzy was feeling a bit off and I’m sure the elevation (7000+ feet) didn’t help.  Lizzy decided to take it easy and we relaxed while I depumped. Up for a bit of adventure I got on a route that wasn’t in our guidebook and it was exciting with an awkward crux and a fun finale at 5.11-. I convinced Lizzy to TR this route which she sent with a few falls even though it was not her style. It was getting late but I had a bit more energy and did a few 5.10b’s at the end of the crag onsighting one and doing the other 2nd try.  Looking at the book  a bit later I realized I had misread the descriptions and the climbs were actually 5.10a (left) and 5.11a (right) which made more sense and I felt silly for misreading the book.

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Lizzy checking out the upcoming climbing after Pitch 1.

One of the big reasons for going back to Charleston was to give Lizzy a crack at her project from last season, Five Finger Discount.  She had done all the moves and linked different sections but could not get through the techy crux from the ground. Saturday we warmed up on an awesome 5.8 at Robbers Roost before I decided to give Future Days an attempt. This was one of the first routes bolted at Charleston and I had previously been too intimidated to try it. I soloed 15 feet to the first bolt doing multiple 5.10 moves on the way. Some tricky reaches got me to the 2nd bolt and the crux. I felt around for a while trying to find holds but eventually gave up, unwilling to set off  into the unknown and the distant bolt.  A few false starts later I figured out the tricky foot moves and made it through the crux and to the next bolt. The rest of the route was much easier than expected though I still hung at the last bolt before a final hard move and the 20 foot runout to the anchor.
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Looking out at the surrounding hills (The hood is just right of center behind an obvious yellow buttress)

With the crux sequence memorized I sent the route 2nd try and Lizzy climbed it on TR only falling at the first crux. With our warmup complete we left the sunny side of robbers roost (it was hot) and went to the main breezy corridor. Fortunately the project draws we had left on Five Finger Discount were still there and Lizzy was all set for the send! The first part of the route went very smoothly and she took at the crux to save energy and remember the complex sequence. The first few tries were unsuccessful but all of a sudden Lizzy found her zone and did the crux move easily, got the tricky next clip and went to the top!! On her next try Lizzy made the bottom section look super casual and sent the route without a problem!! It was cool to see Lizzy step outside of her box and climb a route that required bigger moves on a steeper wall. In between her tries I had given a burn to my project, The Burgler, but the final moves still seemed hard from the hang so I still needed to gain fitness before any real redpoint attempts.

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Lizzy follows the “alpine” like second pitch.

We spent a bit more time after lunch looking for a campsite for Saturday night but no luck! We were really hoping to move from the free lot since we had not slept well the previous night due to a group of screaming crazies from Vegas that were running around at 3am.

We moved on to The Hood which had a few 5.12’s that I had not tried yet. When we got there the first 5.12a, Rappin Boyz, was wet so I attempted what I thought was Jazz Ma Taz. It had fixed chain draws so I knew I could always bail if it was too hard. The moves were really cool and I made good progress bolt to bolt until the 2nd to last bolt. The final boulder problem involved a powerful undercling sequence followed by a huge reach to a decent hold by the anchor. This section was a show stopper and I lowered off not sure what to do.

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Lizzy shoes a bit of attitude.

We found the other 5.12 that I wanted to try, I believe it was called Borne a Snake, and it looked really desperate and there was no chalk meaning it had not been climbed recently. After talking to a few locals I realized the route I  had just tried shared the start with Jazz Ma Taz but had a totally different finish. This explained the chalked 12+ that I had seen on the rock though the local told me he thought it was super hard and likely 13a. The final boulder problem had been really desperate and everything made more sense. With no other routes in mind I wanted to see how far I could link and gave it another go.

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Out of the shade for a summit shot!

My lack of limestone fitness showed instantly as I had to rework the sequence to the 4th bolt on the fly since I couldn’t hold on the same way as my first try. I thruched a bit got the clip and fully committed to the next sequence making a hard pull left to a sinker jug. My fingers stalled on the deadpoint just beyond the hold and I though I wasn’t going to be able to fall into the big pocket. With encouragement from Lizzy I made it a bit further but found another sequence where my beta was too strength intensive for the link. After a few falls I made some good progress on the top boulder problem but still couldn’t work out how to get my right hand in the last undercling.

Lizzy was a bit low on motivation, which often comes after sending a hard project, and we moved on to some easier climbs. I lead a painfully sharp 5.10a slab just left of the Corrosion cave which I knew Lizzy would not like and we decided to call it a day. The night seemed to be going well, at the free lot, until two groups of loud campers showed up and dashed our hopes of sleep. One memorable and loud saying from the group was how it “only midnight” and there was lots of night left (I assume to keep us from sleeping and continue partying).

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Trying not to get too excited by keeping it silly!

The next day I was not feeling up to trying any more hard climbs and Lizzy was not ready to start climbing on the hard routes at the Hood. I wanted to climb either the Imaginator (of which I had done the excellent first pitch) or the Cathedral Route. Lizzy chose to go to a new area and after a bit of a long hike for Charleston (45mins) we found our self at the very chossy base of Cathedral Rock. A few loose rocks fell from the summit while we were racking up and I was a bit anxious that I had left my helmet at home.  After some exploring the multiple ledge systems I found the bolted starting belay so Lizzy and I got ready to climb. The Cathedral Route is on a north facing wall and we both changing into pants and Lizzy brought her R1 and light windbreaker.

Cathedral Route TopobA topo I made thanks to Beta Creator.

The book noted the route could only be rapped with two ropes so we brought our shoes to walk off on the hiker trail from the summit. The book also said the last pitch was 120 feet which we though might be workable to rappel with a 70m rope. The first pitch was the crux and a brutal warmup. The start seemed steep and I had to fight the pump on the many reaches between flat edges.  A little over halfway up the holds ran out and I was faced with sharp quartz bands running across the limestone face. I was right next to the arete and had to make an off balance move to get established on the slab. The next 25 feet were full on and I thought I might fall off at any point. Luckily I made it, passing a sporty runout in some bad rock, to the final crux before the anchor. I must have spent 20+ minutes at a good stance trying three different variations before discovering a small sidepull. This tiny hold helped me get my feet up and I made a few laybacking move to the anchor.

Lizzy followed with only 2 falls some how avoiding the flash pump that plagued me. The 2nd pitch was much easier since the dark bands now stuck out a good ways from the wall leaving one to two inch edges. Pitch two was almost vertical and I thought it felt more like 5.10c/d compared to the 10b given in the book.  I made it to the anchor knocking off only one rock from the chossy corner that led to the anchor. Pulling hard got me through the funky first 2 bolts of the final pitch. The next section, to the 3rd bolt and above, was so fun with perfect jugs appearing at the limit of my reach. An exciting slab move with my feet noticeably far above my last bolt had me yelling with joy. A nice rest set me up for some more steep jug pulling and the crux of the last pitch. I struggled to hold on to awkward underclings while reaching as high as I could search for the next hold. A small crimp gave way to a series of triangular flat ledges and more slabby limestone. The last part was a bit less feature and I was moving as fast as possible pinching large limestone features trying to avoid the pump.

Climbing - Summer 09 112

Luke cleans up some trash from Cathedral Rock

At the anchor  the middle mark of our rope was at the 3rd bolt so Lizzy decided to carry our shoes on the final pitch. I confirmed her decision when I pulled up the rope and the middle mark was almost 10 feet below me.  For convenience someone could easily double up the final protection bolt to create a rap station which would allow the whole route to be rapped with a 70m rope. Right now the final anchor is in a very logical place since it allows you 3rd class access to the summit. We strolled down the hiker trail and then I hiked a very direct route back to retrieve our packs. On my way back  I filled  my crampon pouch with bottles and cans and saw so much trash that still had to carry the final cans to the base.  Check out those old Budweisers!!

We had a great weekend but it will sadly be a long time before we go back to Charleston.

– Luke

The Road to June and our Contest Winner!!

5 06 2009

It is June already and Lizzy will graduate in a week and then 8 days later I will fly up to Portland, Oregon for a week at Smith Rocks.  It has been exceptionally busy at work and we have been making the most of our weekends leaving little time to write stories and post photos. Climbing as been going well and I am finally starting to get back the the same levels from six months ago. My various finger injuries have been more bothersome than expected but I have been enjoying “moderate” routes at gym and have been mixing up my workout routine .

Mt Charleston - May 09 002

Lizzy trying to catch up on sleep after our post midnight arrival.

First off we held a little contest for a SuperTopo shirt and despite our efforts its been over two weeks without posting a winner.  Via a random number generator we have a result and I will be sending John M from North Dakota the Shirt!! Congratulations to John and thanks to everyone who left a comment. Hopefully in the future we can give away something desirable to a large audience and perhaps get more then seven responses.

Mt Charleston - May 09 058

All dressed up for Phantom.

As Lizzy already posted on Twitter, back in May, we spent our Anniversary in Las Vegas. We dressed up and went to a show between two days of sport climbing. Phantom was awesome and it was quite impressive to see how many people go to casinos. The show was a ton of fun and it was great to see all of the classic songs performed. Previously Lizzy and I had been through some of the cheaper, dirtier casinos that made me wonder why people gamble. This trip our show was at the Venetian and they had some crazy sights. The photo below was taken inside; needless to say I was impressed.

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A far too realistic scene inside the Venetian Hotel and Casino

We were able to climb before the show on Saturday and all day Sunday. The limestone at Robbers Roost did not disappoint and Lizzy and I checked out a few routes we had yet to try. The climbing varies greatly depending on the angle of the rock and it occasionally seems like you are climbing at different areas. We started on some slab routes with small sharp holds and features caused by drips. After a super fun 5.8 warmup Lizzy and I both lead this exciting 10+.  It was likely bolted on lead and often the climber was doing a cruxy move with a bolt well below their feet. I also tried a hard 5.11 slab which I onsighted until the final bolt. Unfortunately I was quite pumped and did not want to commit to a long fall while pushing into the unknown. I hope to keep a cool head and redpoint the route this weekend.

Mt Charleston - May 09 046

Luke uses a double stick clip to put a draw on the third bolt.

After I tried Prince of Thieves, seen above, we moved back to the main area of Robbers Roost. The morning had been quiet and we had not seen very many people. The central section of the crag is in a tall canyon/corridor which really traps sound. We were impressed to see a decent crew of people with the occasional tourist. I had wanted to do the super extension of The Rooster and racked up 20 quickdraws for the 40+ meter pitch. The standard version of the route is 10c with 9 bolts in about 95 feet. It is sharp and a bit scary but a good mental exercise. The 1st extension is 11b and another 3 or 4 bolts. The final extension goes up steeper rock with an additional 5 or so bolts for a total of 17 (which I only figured out after climbing it). It was my first time on the extension and I made it to the 2nd set of anchors onsighting the 11b crux. However I was drained mentally and did not want to commit to the steep upper section and chose to rap off which just barely got me to the ground with our 70m rope.
Mt Charleston - May 09 048

Stick clip magic!!

Lizzy enjoys projecting at Robbers Roost and after sending Los Banditos, her 2nd 11c last season, she turned to Five Finger Discount for this years project. This route is a bit harder and requires more power than endurance to complete its shorter steep crux. I put a set of project draws on the route  stick clipping through the crux to save energy. The 4th clip is fairly hard and having the draws on makes the climb more fun.  I taped the upper gates closed and hopefully the gear will still be there when we return this weekend.

Mt Charleston - May 09 031

Lizzy skin is losing the battle against the limestone.

Lizzy made great progress over the two day weekend and relearned the beta she had developed the summer before. There was no send but hopefully this weekend we will have workable weather and Lizzy can nab another 11c.  With the help of some locals I was able to send Highway Man on my third try for my first 12a at Mt Charleston. I also climbed a very fun unknown 11+ route to the right of Five Finger Discount that had a very cool crux involving body tension on slopey holds. I was happy with my weekend results and to be regaining my sport climbing fitness.

As I previously noted we spent Memorial day weekend in Zion and had a blast. I think that my body is now recovered from our day on Sheer Lunacy and am excited for the summer season in the Sierra’s. The short and medium term effects of a very long hard day of climbing are curious and I am still learning how best to prepare and recover. We learned the hard way that it is best to budget for more water than you expect to drink even if it is heavy.

This past weekend Lizzy and I had initially planned to go to Idyllwild with some of our friends from Santa Barbara but a last minute cancellation left us with some free time. We decided to skip the trad climbing and clip bolts on granite at Keller Peak. Josh and Julie met up with us mid day and showed us some of the different crags. Julie took a few photos and I expect they will be on her blog at some point.  We decided to go exploring at lunch and somehow got caught in a impromptu rainstorm. This is pretty strange since Keller Peak is only about an hour or so east of Pasadena but I suppose that once above 7000 feet one can be subject to different weather.

Mt Charleston - May 09 063

Plenty of tourists visit Robbers Roost full of misinformation from this sign.

We decided to bail since all the rocks were wet but while driving down the mountain the rain mysteriously stopped. In fact the road was bone dry meaning the the rain had somehow been stuck higher up. After reconsidering options we choose adventure and went to the Dinosaur Wall. This crag does not have a guidebook and we were a bit unsure of the approach. However we could see the rock from the road and made our way their safely despite an encounter with a sleepy rattlesnake.

Mt Charleston - May 09 022

Lizzy cross the road to start the killer 5 minute approach to Robbers Roost.

The Lower Dinosaur wall had a few bolted routes and I was feeling good and jumped on the middle line with no idea of the grade. I was able to onsight the route and it was quite fun and easy until the last two moves which allow one to clip the anchors. I swung right and put a TR on a harder route that Josh had attempted in the past. This gave us two TR’s which was nice way to relax after escaping the rain. After a short nap the ladies did the left route while Josh and I worked the right route with a cruxy arete boulder problem start. I was able to do all of the moves and after getting to the top I re-tried the bottom crux and got ready for the lead. The bolts are a bit oddly space but I was confident since I had yet to fall on the moves.

On my lead attempt I must have been holding back a bit and my body was so tight that I could not reach a hold necessary for the tricky mantel. After a few tries I changed my sequence completly and managed to mantel using different feet  and make it through the crux. I found my self on the half way no hands rest much more pumped then on TR and was happy to hold on through the crimpy finish  trying not to pull the wrong way on a very low quality sidepull while clipping the anchors.

Mt Charleston - May 09 016

Lizzy objecting to my morning enthusiasm at Mt Charleston.

We did one more route the front of the Dinosaur wall and moved to a corridor on the inside with a plethora of newly bolted routes. It was very nice to be in the shade and despite a previous to the area  trip Josh had not climbed any of these routes. We were both excited to have our choice of routes and I chose an easy looking line with two bolts to a flaring hand crack. I grabbed an assortment of cams from Josh and led up the grainy chossy rock. After making my way into the crack we could tell how new these routes were as lichen and rock cascaded down onto Josh’s head. I was not excited with the gear and ended up placing 3 pieces from the stance as Josh laughed at me from below. I moved up, adjusted one of the cams, and started face climbing now that the crack had vanished. While there were no more bolts but the climbing was easy and I made it to the top.

Mt Charleston - May 09 008The summer air is cool at the high altitude Hilltop Campground

By the time Lizzy and Julie arrived in the corridor Josh was half way up the 50 ft “pitch” and we were both laughing uncontrollable. The rock was  not the best and Josh now saw why I had been a bit sketched out and placed so many pieces. When Josh had tugged on 2 of my cams the lobes had just continued to open in the soft granite. Not the best sight. Josh and I finished the day with a few more TR’s and are excited to go back with some pads to try and headpoint one of the TR’s that had not been bolted. It looked like the climb could be protected with a couple of cams in a horizontal that would keep you off the deck for the crux follow by some unprotected crimping before a final crack and mantel top out. Hopefully I will have time to go back before it gets too hot.

Mt Charleston - May 09 013

Lizzy doing a final bit of relaxing before we went climbing at Robbers Roost.

We are taking Lizzy’s final weekend before graduation to do a last minute sport climbing tune up at Mt Charleston. If all goes well Lizzy will send her project and I will send the slab route and perhaps the Rooster super extension.  Lizzy is working on a blog with thoughts from Zion and I have a ton of photos to post in the next few weeks.



A Brief Alpine Adventure in Red Rocks

21 03 2009

Snow crunched under my feet. Where had I gone, the morning had been brisk but this was the desert.  The snow was wet, the temperature was above freezing. I went further  up the gully,  crawling around and through a hole to surmount the final chockstone. Everything was covered in snow now as I went hand over hand up a frozen rope. Were we lost? Could our route be in this frozen corridor. I kicked another step, trying not to slide back down the gully. Ice covered the mossy walls and was slowly melting as the day warmed up. The sun had risen over an hour ago and the upper part of the Aeolian wall was baking in the morning sun.  I stepped up and immediately fell through the icy crust up to my waist, a mix of snow and ice  now filled the narrowing gully floor.   I found a tree and a small  boulder and kicked out a small platform  so I would not loose my balance and tumble down the gully.

Scanning the walls I found our route. A Uristoe bolt followed by a long string of shiny hangers lead up the wally through a large smear of ice to a high ledge.  Lucasz now made his way up to my position; happy the mini cascades of snow and ice, I was causing, had stopped. The conditions were sub-optimal to say the least but the first pitch was mine and I hoped that if I could get up it using a bit of aid we would have a chance at the upper pitches, which should be in the sun and possibly free of snow and ice.

Thoughts of the previous night echoed in my head as I racked for the first pitch. When Lukasz and I drove in from LA he remarked on how much snow was on the mountains. I dismissed this, thinking there was always snow in February and thought nothing of his observation. Now as my hands quickly went numb I wondered why I had been so naive. I clipped the first bolt and thought about the out plan. Inti Watana was long, around 8-12 pitches depending on linking, but mostly bolted and all under 5.10 except for the 2nd and the last pitches. This was to be a recovery climb since my left hand has been functioning at only about 50% of its capacity.  I got the bolt clipped and was standing on good edges as I scraped ice off the rock with my nut tool. I found some decent holds and made my way above the bolt. Without the feeling in my fingers I resorted to aid and stepped on the first hanger but I was still unable reach the safety of the first shiny hanger.

I was warm but my fingers were wet and cold and I couldn’t feel anything. I had to leave my stance on the bolt and move up through a slabby section on some wet edges to get the next bolt. After much hesitation I made the few move sequence and clipped in. Just as the rope went into the quickdraw a loud echoing noise came from above that sounded like rock fall. Lukasz had been hit with small ice avalanches while I had been climbing  but this we though this could be a big one. He hunkered down as I sucked into the wall as baseball sized climbs of ice rained down into the gully.

We were both fine but decided to reconsider our alpine adventure. There are many other places to climb in Red Rocks and it would be silly to get hit with ice when we could be wearing t-shirts elsewhere. I left a biner and lowered off so we could pack up our gear and do some climbing. Before leaving we got hit with an even bigger ice fall that validated our choice. Back at the car by 10:30 we had taken a bit less than 2 hours each way hiking. The majority of the approach is on the main fire road with a mandatory scramble up a gully on the way in. This is the 2nd gully you pass and is aptly named the white rot gully. It is a steep, narrow and sandy passage (of white sandstone) that ends with a bit of  tunneled under and then over a large chockstone.  We descended via the main Aeolian gully and rapped the final bit  with a 70m rope which just reached. To avoid the rap you must do a  mandatory 5th class down climb which looked bad and was wet. For reference we could have easily gone back down the white rot gully (how we approached) with 3rd and 4th class scrambling but I wanted to check out the rappel option.

This Approach photo is very useful! Thanks to  Eric and Lucie

We spent the rest of the weekend clipping bolts and enjoying warm February weather despite our out of place encounter with snow on Mt. Wilson. I should have realized that the north east facing Aeolian wall would be cold and could still be holding snow.  Despite my injured fingers I stubbornly tried a bunch of routes that ended up making things worse. I manged a few fun onsights at the sweet pain wall and Lukasz redpointed the namesake route. We also spent some time at the gallery where I momentarily dabbled on Fear and Loathing before turning the sharp end to Lukasz for a 3rd try send !!!(6 or so overall). He crushed the route and made me wish that I could crimp again with my left hand.

Overall I had a really fun weekend despite staying mainly at the Second Pullout. We climbed at the Sweet Pain wall,the Tsunami wall,  checked out California 12a, which was wicked steep, went to the Gallery and the Wall of Confusion.  This was only my third time or so solely sport climbing at Red Rocks despite many visits over the last 3 years.  I really prefer the longer routes in Red Rocks and look forward to some warmer weather where you can climb in the shade. Regardless the sport routes are well worth it and are fingery and pumpy though not always on the best rock. I guess I am just spoiled after climbing on the East Coast in places like Rumney, the New River Gorge and the Red River Gorge as well as the Obed in Tennesse.



Winter… in Red Rocks!

15 01 2009

This past weekend the weather was perfect and we had an amazing couple of days in Red Rocks. There were a staggering eight of the San Diego crew out at the Gallery on Saturday so Lizzy and I were able to take a bunch of Photos. Sunday Lizzy and I opted for some solitude and had a fun time at the Stone wall. While the rock is a bit soft the routes are longer and we enjoyed being alone while we were there.


Sonia on the super crimpy Minstral in the Gallery. 



Felix starting across the Sissy Traverse



Konstantine on Where the Down Boys Go



Felix making good progress on his project, the Sissy Traverse



Konstantine high up on Where The Down Boys Go


red-rocks-jan-09-060Leah on the opening moves of Nothing Shocking



Leah making progress on Nothing Shocking



Sonia on Fear and Loathing



Sonia gets ready for some hard clips on Fear and Loathing



Luke on the beginning moves of Fear and Loathing



Luke working through the left variation of the crux of Fear and Loathing