Five Things You Already Do That Are Easier Than Hiking Mount Whitney

Jeremy felt like there was a bit too much O2 at 14,500'

Jeremy felt like there was a bit too much O2 at 14,500′

The small rocky outcrop nestled high above Escondido was a popular place for graffiti art and homeless intercourse, but today the crags around Dixon Lake peppered with local climbers would serve as a backdrop to photographs that will accompany an article about outdoor activities in North County. The kind and doddering photographer ambled helplessly in between the gentle boulders, navigating her way through them like a toddler through a ball pen. Sure enough once I lashed her safely into position above a 3-foot drop a camera would whip from a fanny pack and she’d hammer out a few dozen professional quality pics before I could tie in and do some climbing. The lens alone cost more than my car and after I’d received my copy of the article in print I had doubts the place was even Dixon Lake. Where was the broken glass and discarded condoms?

Fact of the matter is being a professional photographer is hard, a lot harder than rock climbing – she just hadn’t done it as much.

Walk into the Lone Pine ranger station below Mount Whitney on a Friday morning and you can feel the buzz. The long walkway that leads from a parking lot of luxury SUV’s with California plates acts as a gallows to which weekend warriors stick their necks each weekend, hoping to make the summit without puking out $40 of hiking food from Trader Joes. I feel for these folks, who step occasionally into a pretty weird world that I’ve come to call my home. Hiking is hard, but seeing them pay for a hiking map on a credit card made out of rare-earth metals while speaking a foreign language to his visiting friend from Japan I couldn’t help but think these characters can do some things that I think are damn near impossible.

1. Floss

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’m 29 years old, and after almost 11,000 days I still forget just about every morning. The same guys who look at me in camp perplexed I forgot my floss are the ones I see bonking at 11,500 feet hiking Whitney. How did you not spend one day above altitude before coming up? Funny enough, he still summitted, floss in his pocket and nary a spec of foodstuff in between his molars. Even screwing it up he managed to hike Whitney, albeit in about as much pain as one can imagine having hiking 20 miles with an apocalyptic hangover.  Once we got down to some ibuprofen and beer the hiker seems to be all better, while I’m scrounging for dental plans on craigslist and considering Mexican supplements. Hiking is WAY easier than flossing.

2.  Not urinate in public

It happens all the time, without fail: I have to pee in the middle of a long desert road without any rest stops. If there’s a stretch of driving more than 30 minutes it’s almost a guarantee. The number of times I had to pull off into the dirt as far as my car could off-road to meekly relieve severe discomfort amidst looks of scorn are difficult to recall. Each time, shame and disappointment. Look at me, I’m almost 30 years old and I’m peeing on my tire in the desert. In my life I’d never seen someone do the same, yet I’m constantly having to pee when restrooms aren’t around and cruelly denied privacy or respite by long open fields. Everyone goes pee, why is it so weird? Why did stopping mid-race to take a leak in a cross country race in high school get me disqualified, almost expelled? I don’t have the answer, but I can tell you that it is a LOT easier to hike Mount Whitney than to live without peeing in public.

3. Eating Vegetables

At a wedding recently I met a family member who hadn’t had a vegetable in 40 years. While I felt bad for his gut flora I hurt more that he was missing out on some amazing stir fried dishes and salads that I had recently come across. It might be possible that I could have been him, had I not spent a few years wracking myself trying to come up with healthy meals to support my climbing habit. Month after month I’d boil broccoli or fry red pepper only to have it come out the consistency of play-doh, and each time I’d wrestle the depleted fibers down hoping I absorbed something of value in the food-paste. Perhaps the best thing about the outdoor community is the access to awesome recipes – hippy vegans have filled in my repertoire of dishes so now it’s possible that I can get a well-rounded diet without lacing my meals with bacon. My hippie vegan friends and I have wonderful conversations, some where they even lament that Whitney is such a hard hike and they’d love to do it. If I could trade my quads for their Quinoa I would.

4. Register a Vehicle

Every May I tip the U.S. Government an extra 30 dollars because I can’t seem to find the DMV before 30 days are up. When registering for a permit to hike Whitney, the license plate information is recorded in the event of an emergency, and the line of documented SUV’s with fresh oil and a clean filter outside seem to have passengers that are able to send a check once a year. Owning the lone unregistered vehicle in June and July is embarrassing, and what at first was a funny quirk of personality has erupted into full-blown compulsion. A flat tire while driving to renew, no stamps in the drawer, but more likely a week-long climbing trip wiped my brain slate clean and a penchant for avoiding paperwork means nothing is written down: I come back from climbs a brand new human, having to pick up the pieces like that guy from Memento. Disappointed glances from CHP personnel accompanied by warnings have done little – and I hope to break my streak in 2015. Don’t bet on it.

5. Raise a child

Everyone has a baby. There are literally hundreds of children in the world today – possibly more. I would go so far as to say there are enough children, yet more and more seem to keep popping up. Each year public schools graduate some, but more are taken in – haven’t we educated all them by now? Surprisingly, people keep having kids. I’ve heard that being a parent is literally the hardest thing you will ever do. After a trip to the supermarket, I have to confess that life must be so much more amazingly simple than I had suspected. Parents everywhere letting kids run wild and cause mayhem was relieving to me, as the hardest thing I might ever do requires about as much effort as owning a cat. Sure, there are great parents out there, but even the terrible ones seem to do all-right, living oblivious to the transgressions they teach their kids, and the kids themselves seem to do all right, some learning from the mistakes of their parents and some not. I’ve hiked Whitney, and it was pretty hard, but it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve done.

So, next time you are considering adding to your family or flossing after a plate full of veggies, try hiking Mount Whitney instead. You’re almost there.

 

 

Highball

high plains

“I meant to tell mankind about a new state about which I could tell them little or nothing, to teach them to tread a long and lonely path which might or might not lead thither, to bid them to dare encounter all possible perils of nature unknown, to abandon all their settled manners of living and cut themselves off from their past and their environment, and to attempt a quixotic adventure with no resources beyond their native strength and sagacity.  I had done it myself and found not only that the pearl of great price was worth far more than I possessed, but that the very perils and privations of the quest were themselves my dearest memories.  I was certain of this at least: that nothing in the world except this was worth doing.”

-Aleister Crowley

Credit: Jerry Chen Photography

Credit: Jerry Chen Photography

A boulder stands nobly on a hillside strewn with hundreds of his brethren, immovable sentinels posing closely together yet each in their own solitude.  There is no interpretation, no attachment of emotion or understanding of grace.  Shattered and broken piles of decomposing granite lie next to perfectly hewn swaths of stone, both parts of a whole yet individual specimens with personality and style.

The biggest of these oversee their realm with opulent dominance like kings puffing their chests in full battle-armor.  Indeed the quirks of geology that birth such giants come only from immaculately grown crystals seeded millions of years ago in a dense batholith.  The iron-like cuirass of hardened Patina edges offer a line of weakness up the patriarch, daring any to ply their mettle and wage a battle with the giant high above the hill.

“You not only get psyched up but almost become hypnotized or mesmerized to the point where your mind goes blank, and you climb by well-cultivated instincts.  You do it.”

-John Gill

Thimble

John Gill on The Thimble – from Pat Ament’s Master of Rock

In 1961 there was no sport climbing, no harnesses, no climbing shoes.  The Golden Age of climbing in Yosemite had produced die-hard bad asses like Royal Robbins, Warren Harding and Chuck Pratt.  Outside of California, in a midwest Air Force Base doing pull-ups on nuts and bolts sticking out of the walls, was perhaps the greatest American climber ever to touch rock hiding away from the center stage of Yosemite Valley.  Decades before hang boards and even the Bachar Ladder Gill took functional training to new levels, regarding small boulders not as “practice climbs” as his peers did but as moving meditation.  The collegiate gymnast, capable of one-armed levers and climbing a 20-foot rope in 3.4 seconds, applied his mathematically-inclined mind to complete many of his ‘problems’ including his most famous of all – The Thimble in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Free soloing a 5.12 over a nasty guard-rail (since removed) when 5.11 had barely been established is ground breaking enough for Gill to retain his legacy as one of the greatest climbers of all time.  That he would later complete other ‘problems’ rated up to modern V9 only adds to the mystique of his character, the soft-spoken math teacher standing over 6 feet and built like a Marvel Superhero.

The experience of climbing is timeless, the mechanics rooted in our own evolutionary growth as fingers grasp small rock holds and branches on the way atop high lofts to see danger and weather approaching.  Yet beyond that, there are those for whom the climb and the vistas are more than tools for scouting danger or prey.  Like arrowheads found on top of the highest Sierra peaks our own history dictates that mountains without any merit aside from their uniquely difficult summits draw adventurous few to solve a problem in their head.  Can I get to that place?  Is it meant for me?

Heavenly Path

Heavenly Path

Gill often describes his experiences as a type of meditation, or kinesthetic awareness.  Rehearsing the movement, climbing up and down higher and higher into a fever pitch, the Thimble was completed in what was likely perfect performance art.  When the conscious mind sets the series of movements the unconscious executes.  The flow and rhythm are just as much as the process as the motions they occur between, blending confidence and spirit as spirit wills body.  Doubt isn’t indulged in at the base of these climbs, and meditation can put one in the midst of the battle.

The king lay before, a sword in hand.  A swift blow to his weakest point, where the armor is split and invites the blade, and the skirmish is won.  Parry his blows, swing the blade and kill the king, stand on his shoulders and shout in triumph.  For a warrior there is no one battle, not a singular foe to leave driven or wall to overcome.

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

-Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

 

Miyamoto Mushashi

If you want to know what that feeling is like, find the boulder fields.  Find the hill sides speckled with lumps of tall monoliths calling your name.  Walk up to their knobby surfaces, battle-worn and brushed smooth from a hundred others flaying their skin on it’s carapace.  From under his belly there is no glory and the rounded lip obscures a summit.  What might that summit be like?  Can I get to that place?  Is it meant for me?

(For further reading on John Gill check out Master of Rock by Pat Ament

Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby

Illoydson Dweller

Lloyd Petrungaro on Illusion Dweller

“ROPE!”

Almost two hundred feet of rope satisfyingly spirals cleanly to the deck below.  I hope they heard me underneath, but either way Lloyd should be wearing a helmet.  I warned him he might need one.

A minute later and I’m rigged for rappel off of anchor bolts atop a nearby climb.  Below Lloyd and Keith are fumbling with hard wear below in a narrow shaded canyon.  The climb is called Illusion Dweller and is on the Sentinal formation in Joshua Tree National Park. Or, maybe NOW it’s called illusion dweller.  Due to a mix-up in first ascent history, the climb was originally done by a 15 year-old Matt Cox 40 years before Lloyd tied in to give it a go.  As the story goes he merely walked up and climbed it, with the archaic equipment of the day and no knowledge of what the climb had to offer.

Bounding down the blank rock next to the 120 foot curving crack climb it’s hard not to be humbled by the beauty of the Hidden Valley.  A few generations ago cattle rustlers likely stood atop this large rock formation to watch their herd graze.  Likely too Matt Cox stood on this ledge having passed the crucible of one of the most continuous splitter cracks of it’s grade in the park.  For whatever reason he and his party named the route after a book of short essays by Tom Wolfe, and though a second party a few years later would unknowingly come upon the route and climb it (while adding an expansion bolt in the process), and the more well-known crew of Stonemasters named the route Illusion Dweller rather than the original – Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

Lowering into the shaded canyon from the large ledge drenched in afternoon sunlight was like walking into a dark refrigerator.  As soon as the eyes adjusted a snag came into view below, just in time to avoid an accidental Colonoscopy as I kicked the wall and reached clean dirt and my buddies about to cast off.

Lloyd was quiet, likely nervous yet always positive.  It was tough getting a bead on the guy.

“Hey man looks pretty nice up there.”  He looked like a little kid on Christmas morning in front of a tree full of presents as he chattered through nervous teeth.

“It is, it is.  It’s all there.” I keep repeating this phrase when talking about climbs and hear it all the time.  I don’t think it actually means anything and I’ve never been comforted in hearing it when pleading for any clues to succeeding at a hard route.  Here I was, looking for a way to describe that the climb is, indeed, a climb.  “it’s all there…” I mumble again to his turned back as Keith checks his tie-in knot. At least, I think it’s all there.

“Save that green camalot for the roof, underneath.  And a few finger sized pieces for the top!” I felt like his mom dropping him off for his first day of school.

Keith’s always quiet.  I just assume he’s fine.

The two prepare for their respective responsibilities as the Jumars are slapped onto my rappel line. I’ve got my mom’s camera around my neck and am ready to capture Lloyd’s first attempt at climbing Illusion Dweller, a wannabe photographer ascending a fixed line into a nice position.  I’m up in the sun and can hear nervous laughter in the darkness below, the kind of chuckle to blurt out when the crash pad is six inches underfoot and you’re trying to edge on dimes.  A moment later my suspicion was confirmed as the jingle jangle of a rack of climbing gear flying through space cued me in that he took a quick slide down low.  Taking off sunglasses and squinting hard into that dank slot I could see his red shirt, standing and chalking up again after having slipped off very low and being caught on his first gear placement.  He always placed good protection, that at least I could tell myself to avoid any heart attacks as I goaded him into new territories and grades.

There was time to think while dangling in a harness in the middle of a 150 foot rock wall.  What was he getting into?


Bebop

Greg Davis on Bebop Tango, photo credit Jerry Chen

One of the keys to being an active climber is to have terrible short-term memory.  We’ve even classified “Fun” into three types, because having “Fun” in the moment isn’t always likely if one makes a habit out of sleeping in ice caves or crawling through Manzanita on the way to a sun baked crag in August.  Looking back and saying “I think that was fun” is a delightful form of deceit to make return trips possible.

Thinking back, I did have fun my last time on Illusion Dweller.  A friend and professional photographer Jerry came out to take pictures as I climbed with a local partner on several classics in good position.  His stunning photo’s (and many more) can be seen on his website and blog and I loved the way capturing moments on camera add to the art of the climb.  Taking pictures of inspiring lines and climbers having adventures on them has become an interest of it’s own on some of my trips, and as I arrived for New Years with Keith and Lloyd in the high desert of Joshua Tree there was hope that they would have their own epic experiences on the rock.

Grey Cell

Rich Magner on Grey Cell Green, photo credit Jerry Chen

The stunning crack climb up The Sentinel West Face was a saga in my Joshua Tree climbing career.  It sure felt easy last winter with Jerry and my local friend Rich, but thinking back and jostling my memory bank a few experiences fell out.  I wondered after remembering past attempts at the climb that in hoping to give Lloyd a good experience perhaps he was given a bigger bite than he could chew.  He started to pull back up to the first low crux and I had a vivid memory in my head of being dragged up that very section on top-rope six years earlier.


DSCN1340

22 year old Me slaying (or sewing up) 5.6 in Joshua Tree

In 2007 the climbing world was as new to me as it was to Lloyd.  Being overweight and timid didn’t stop me as I bravely hacked my way up front country 5.6’s and trekked out a couple miles to the easiest mountain routes.  Experiences were what drove me, doing anything and everything even if anything isn’t much.  My guidebooks were scoured for the easiest classics to lead – which I’d managed to tick off from the bottom grades up – yet a chance to climb with a rope gun was never turned down.

One October day I found myself standing in the shade below Illusion Dweller drawing straws for the sharp end.  It felt like Russian Roulette as our group of three decided me, the tubby guy with a haircut from The Hobbit, was the last resort to lead the route.  My friends Trevor and Tyler would go first and second, respectively, and I would be the hail Mary if one of them failed in getting the rope up to the top.

DSCN1343

Trevor (L) and Tyler (R)

Trevor was lean and mean, 140 pounds of tall sinew with impeccable trad climbing skills from his father’s tutelage. In the warm noon heat he took off fully loaded with our pooled climbing rack hesitantly as we nervously and silently watched below. That first crux, the one where Lloyd slipped and was caught by a cam, was as far as he got.  Hanging on a big flake and looking at another 110 feet of greasy hot hand jams he remembered that the bigger man walks away from the fight.  In the macho world of one-upmanship sometimes found among groups of men we were unarmed living in glass houses.  No one said a word, secretly hoping the same mercy would be paid back.

DSCN1364

what is this I don’t even

Tyler was up next, a phenom Boulderer and freak athlete, six foot six with a positive Ape Index.  He was the horse I put all my chips on and after swapping the gear lazily onto his shoulder the lad took off like he was running away from bees, palming and lie-backing sweaty hand-cracks and running the rope out high above questionably-placed gear.  My head shook in disbelief at the moves I was having to prepare to do watching Tyler hand-over-hand miles of steep cracks.

Trevor and I watched nervously like supportive parents as Tyler pulled over the final bulge and finished the climb.  We were spared, and though one of us would have to tie into the other end and follow Tyler’s lead to the bolted ledge, at least we wouldn’t be leading the climb or placing protection that we would definitely have fallen on.

DSCN1392

I’ll get up this. Some day.

The next hour and change is a grey memory, part of the bad stuff you forget about.  Without a few pictures snapped by Trevor I might not have remembered taking multiple breaks standing on a small ledge partway up or my complete lack of proper crack climbing technique.  I know it was tough, and I remembered having to be hauled past Trevor’s high point.  Part of me thought the top was easy, somehow, and the supposed crux of the whole climb might have been the only part I did clean.

I think.


The lens of my camera retracted; the batteries were dead.  Hanging in space and retrieving a backpack felt a lot more like aid climbing than photography.  I was glad to have tried out big walls in summer 2008 with Tyler five years ago as the exposure of a sweeping wall like the Sentinel didn’t hold a candle to the Leaning Tower or Half Dome.

Heavenly Path

Lloyd refusing to pose on Heavenly Path in Bishop

Lloyd wouldn’t pose.  I have a bad habit of being overly aware of people taking pictures and perhaps having the opposite inclination is a better trait, as he moves in disregard of framing and the rule of thirds and I end up looking like I’m auditioning for Black Swan when I’m out with Jerry.  This long section of rock first in the sunlight, about one-third of the way up, was part of a long continuing hand crack after a rest ledge (the one I’d milked for a good 30 minutes in 2007 with Tyler).

IMG_1077

Woodson Training

All our trips training at Woodson, I had hoped, would prepare Lloyd yet nerves or greasy hand jams made him try harder than necessary on the moderate section.  He was a great crack climber, having climbed Robbins Crack as a boulder problem ground-up (and down-soloing after) and making quick work of a handful of classic splitters.  That memory of mine likes to forget he is barely 20, that at his point in my own climbing career I was still firmly locked at the gym with an occasional trip top-roping at Dixon or scrambling in Joshua Tree.  Keith as well was a talented and strong climber but the mileage just wasn’t up to par with either to see enough situations climbing can throw out.

DSC00681

A pause to chalk up and assess meant that I could dork out and snap some fun photo’s of Lloyd in the midst of it.

“A bit greasy, huh?” He was dipping into his chalk bag like a fiend in the heat.

“Naw, not too bad man.  It’s pretty comfy so far. Just tryin’ to trust my feet and stuff.”

Being strong, and being able to rely on being strong, isn’t the best for learning subtle technique – and Lloyd knew it.  He actively worked to improve the gentler arts of slab and thin face in hopes climbs like Illusion Dweller could end up on his radar.

Having to do something difficult isn’t just OK, it’s necessary.  Making changes and overcoming difficulty gives life meaning as growth and experience a well rounded person make.  The climb I put Lloyd on was safe, straightforward and something that inspired him.  The best things to be offered in climbing is to rise to a challenge head-on, without shortcuts or distractions.  Hopefully a floating chatty photographer wouldn’t disrupt Lloyd’s Chi.

The pump of lactic acid drained from forearms meant it was time to go.  My ascender chewed up rope as I raced to beat Lloyd to the overlapping roof, as his route traversed slightly to the right until just overhead the arc passes underneath my rigged rappel rope.  The rope itself would be in his way if I couldn’t get above and past him, onto the ledge straight above.
“Hey Lloyd are you in a good spot?  Do you got gear in?”

“Hey dude, yeah I’m comfy.  What’s up?”  He hadn’t noticed my roadblock just ahead.
“Lemme get past you real quick, hold on.”
Click-click, click-click, click-click went my rigging system as boots kicked against the wall to get momentum.  As I crept up on the lad I kicked hard to the left one time to move off to the side of him so I could make the passing maneuver in the left lane.
“You good? I kick ya?”

“Ha ha, no man, I’m good man.”

With my feet firmly planted on the ledge it was time for some video.  There seemed to be a constant when I climbed with Lloyd, the one big whipper of the day.  If it were to be any time today, it would be now on the top finger-crack crux section.

Below and underneath the roof, just out of sight, there was a moment of quiet.

“Hey man this green cam doesn’t fit, it’s too small!”

Whoops.  That memory of mine. There was gear in the crack above, thinner stuff but should be good.  I think.


A black Metolius cam, not a green black diamond cam.  In my head I’m standing under the roof, on a tiny ledge before the finger-crack crux.  The vision of a black Metolius cam stands out vividly now, just in between a green and red black diamond cam in size.  It protects a crack jut a bit larger than the one Lloyd was currently fiddling with.  I know I took it up with me the first time I tried to lead Illusion Dweller in fall 2012.

Years had gone by since my first attempt at following Tyler on this route.  Smarter training and a better attitude towards attempting harder climbs had made me able to think that leading it might be possible.  A handful of other climbs of similar difficulty ticked earlier that month let me know I was ready, yet standing under the roof with my last hand sized peice slung up underneath the crux I thought maybe I should have waited another month.

Under roof

Just before the crux, 2012

Below my partner Lucas belayed as my girlfriend and family watched, taking a day off to hang out with Greg in Joshua Tree.  It felt like the first spelling bee I ever had, where I got to the finals and failed with everyone watching on a 7-letter word.  I’d just hauled triplicates of rock protection up the last 110 feet of cracks, leaving almost all of them save a couple of tiny stoppers for the top moves.  It was definitely a black cam, not green.  The same one I left at home every day I climbed after finally getting up Illusion Dweller that first time.

Of course, I didn’t get up it successfully last season on my first try.  A blind throw psyched me out and I rested on a sketchy stopper and pulled the moves after a few minutes of rest and a few attempts at working them.  The climb that had beaten me 5 years ago beat me again, this time when I knew my opponent well.

I would hike out to that climb a total of 5 times the previous season.  Hidden in a tight corridor it is impossible to see if the popular route is clogged with crowds until you are standing nearly below it, and after failing to lead it clean in early fall Lucas and I made that trek twice more, on a four-day trip during Thanksgiving break.  Two timeswe were met with nervous eyes on shivering heads standing at the base, all casting lots to see who would grapple with the sweaty jams above.  Thursday and Friday the crowds shut us down, and Sunday paired with a lighter and more efficient double rack of cams I again came to the last move to fall onto thin protection, feet from the bolted ledge.

Top Out ID

On top, for the first time without falls

Finally on Sunday, the fourth day of our trip in November 2012 and sixth time standing at its base I finished Illusion Dweller.  The heartache of climbing 110 feet of sparingly protected rock only to blow it at the end was too much and I held on tight, finding the hidden holds just out of my feeble reach.  It was such an inspiring thing to overcome and was such a milestone achievement for little old me that I road the coat tails for the rest of the season, taking Rich up behind me for a repeat with Jerry in winter and dragging Keith up the thing in Spring.

It really wasn’t that bad, if you’ve been on it 6 times.  It’s all there.


In the viewfinder of my tiny video camera I could still see the holds and sequences I used in March when Keith visited from College up in Humboldt.  9 months later and it all came back to me, the sloping sidepull and secret pocket.

“Watch me Keith, I’m going for it man!”  Lloyd pulled into the steep corner and finger crack with an attentive belay from Keith, well familiar with the hard moves he was setting himself up to do.

As soon as he is established in the crack he throws in a quick peice of protection.  I lean over, camera in hand, and see it is well-placed.  He wouldn’t be needing that helmet as much as if he had skipped the gear and risked flipping upside-down onto the ledge, as Rich had shown me on Facebook.  A lazy heel behind the rope and Whoosh! Ass over tea kettle and a camera to catch Rich’s plummet and for all of social media to see.  Lloyd was on track.

Unfortunately Lloyd came off.  Abruptly, due to a foot slip.  Also unfortunately is I missed the good-sized whipper he took after with my camera as I adjusted position.

Capture

Logging frequent flyer miles

“Shit.”  I know that feeling all too well.  Just like Trevor, 7 years earlier and 100 feet below, a miss is a miss.  The chance to climb it first-time is blown, and though there are so many climbs to do in the park the hopeful always hold out until the very end.  Whether the first move or the last the box still needs to be checked another day, another time that Lloyd will be hiking into the canyon hoping to find a lonely crack to test his mettle on.

Again he fell. And again. And again.  The hot and slippery rock drained his energy down low and up high where it was needed there was none to be found.  With a belay from above I helped get Lloyd onto the ledge, beaten but bright and hopeful – as always.

“Yeah man sorry.  This sucks I should’a gotten it.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s a hard climb.  Just gotta come back to it you know?”
“Oh for sure!  It’s super good, I’ll do this any time.  It’s really fun, super good jams man.  All the way.”


The game isn’t success, the game is the game.  The game is finding a partner and tossing the ball, not how well you catch it.  Lloyds first go at Illusion Dweller had been miles more successful than my own, as leading the damn thing is far more proud than failing to get up even under your own power as I had in 2007.  More importantly he knew he could do it, and whether or not he needed to he would be back to flay himself on the stone and live a full life of experiences, a roller coaster up and down the rock.

Back on solid ground and ready for Round 2

Back on solid ground and ready for Round 2

#TBT My First Trip to Joshua Tree

Nine years, almost to the day, I drove down park boulevard in a snowstorm on my first trip to Joshua Tree.

Image

The day before I sat at my friend Andrews dining room table, penciling out whatever rations I thought might be important for this trip, while he nervously paced behind me brainstorming.

“Teddie Grahams!” He kept asking as I went down the list.

“Sleeping bags… firewood… can opener…”
“TEDDIE GRAHAMS!”
“YES we can pick up Teddie Grahams. Christ.” I wrote it down.

“You guys might want to chains, a big storm is coming in.”
His fathers voice came from behind, a voice of reason.

Maybe Brandon has chains, he should be here any minute. After all, he IS from Texas.

Image

As we drove up the final hill up into the park we were in the thick of a snowstorm. The huge SUV we had borrowed from Andrews’ Parents drove like the queen Mary on the slick road. Even staying under the 35mph speed limit clouded silhouettes of rock formations would appear as if out of nowhere to our right and left, ghostly apparitions of Monzonite hiding their size and detail in a blur of wet white snow.

I had just only begun climbing outdoors that year, having been the typical gym rat through high school and thinking there had to be something more. Ever the pied-piper for bored youth I would promise stellar weather and good meals to shoe-horn as many of my buddies into a group car and head out camping. Up to this point they had no reason not to trust me, as our trips to Refugio state beach and Cuyamaca had clear skies and all the Teddie Grahams Andrew could eat.

This time, however, I wasn’t a camper. I fancied myself a rock climber, and we were in my mecca. While the boys tried to fit my torn Coleman tent into the cave below the Old Woman I hiked off to the nearest rocks that might be dry, just to slide my fingers over ‘real rock’ and revel in the first real world stage of climbing I had been to. Mount Woodson had nothing next to the Left Ski Track, a style and difficulty that seemed like a foreign language.

Image

Wet holds be damned – I was going rock climbing. Despite the slick, snotty holds and my absolutely dreadful footwork attempts were made on old classics I had gleaned from a guidebook during my job as a theater Projectionist. Realizing right away that ratings of boulder problems in a gym were hardly a yard stick I wandered all over for features, ANY features, that I might be able to get up. I don’t think anything was topped out that day.

The learning curve in winter camping can be ruthless, and that first night in a tent with torn sidewalls was a memorable shiver-cuddlefest as the three of us crammed into a teeny tent I had borrowed from Mom. I wore all my clothes, including a thick leather jacket my dad had given me as a high school graduation present, and spent the wee hours of the night alternating between Brandon and Andrew, whoever would let me snuggle up close and not freeze to death. They didn’t find it as amusing as I did.

The long winter night eventually ended, and I have a vivid memory of separating my eyelids and feeling warm sun melt the ice that had built up on our feet from the tear in the tent fabric. Less than an hour of sunlight had melted almost all of the snow deposited the day before and the morning beamed warm and seemingly friendly.

Image

Rock climbing was now plan B. We set out into the sun-lit playground like school children on recess. No plan in mind, no crashpad strapped to us, we hiked with the sun on our backs due west towards Turtle Rock. The little coves and oasis of flora were awesome pockets of biodiversity, reminding me of summers with the family exploring tide pools on the beaches of Santa Barbara. Small oak and short yucca would be hidden between behomoth boulders, and behind Turtle Rock an unlikely maze of escalated staircase-like talus lead us up onto its Southern shoulder. The desert floor lay out before us, stretching on out like the Savannah. We sat in a makeshift love seat and marveled at the peace from a wilderness of uniform yucca dots.

Image

We went back for lunch, and after scaring mac n cheese I made one last-ditch effort to do some real rock climbing. After all, I was a rock climber, and if I didn’t do some of that here what good was I? Back out West, back to warmth and away from crowds we traipsed looking for any features big enough for our grubby paws to latch onto. I spied a sloping arete, not listed in the guidebook I brought along. It was rough and covered in large grains, typical for East-facing rock.

Image

Desperate for some success I hucked big at the top.

Lessons are hard learned in the desert.Image

With one hand taped up like a mummy it became that much more daunting to find any objective worth jumping on. It didn’t matter much anymore, because my experiences were rich and the sun was warm – anything was success, even abject failure.

Image

My climbing-genes were sated; mom would be proud. I did some rock climbing. After all, she had her first trip to the park a few weeks before with my little brother, climbing Loose Lady with a group of friends from the gym in epic winds. I had to come back with some sort of battle-scars to share at the dinner table.

We went back to camp, traded the crash pad for Teddie Grahams and went to do more exploring.

Image

Most of my first trips to Joshua Tree the majority of the time was spent scrambling, and the few intermittent ‘boulder problems’ were fairly forgettable. I won’t forget that view on top of the Patagonia Pile, after 45 minutes of harrowing gap-jumps and a gravel shower in a chimney. The park was so massive, so intense, and the epic battles we had on its ramparts were but a small fraction of a small portion of a small part of the park. Here was real wilderness, not like the hillsides of San Diego I played on back home. There was no view of the town from the summit, no feeling that we were on an island of the natural world set in a sea of civilization. We were in the thick of it, adventure left and righ, for a thousand yards.

Image

Not long after we would all go seperate ways as life pulled us to our own center. For Brandon, his passion for knowledge and intelligence put him on a course to teach High School History, trading a thick beard for a bow-tie and spectacles. Andrew is raising a beautiful family and learning the crux moves of Fatherhood.

For myself, it seems almost nothing changed.

Image

These days my trips have more purpose, but though a hundred trips have bettered my understanding of that world of Yucca and Stone little has doused the flame of adventure. My eyes still wide, I make my own future in that desert.

Image

Penis Shaming (A Guest Article Written by Kim Jong-Un)

Hello dear readers.

For today’s discussion I took an issue that has been at the forefront of the media’s focus, Penis Shaming. I asked my good friend Kim Jong-Un to share some of his thoughts he shared with me during a discussion about said topic, while watching his armed guards beat each other with shovels.

-Greg

 

Penis Shaming and You

Thanks to the invention of the internet (which, after reading this article, you’ll understand why I banned it in my country) the tiniest voices are being heard – and we are FED UP!  Your country, filled with greed-hungry capitalists and more whole food parking lots than we have Real Estate, have been shoving this CRAP about bullying and fat sensitivity down the collective gullets of the sensationalist media.  All the while the REAL problem lies just below the belt – Penis Shaming.

Look, we get it.  Bullying is terrible.  There is nothing about the face of an innocent child that says “you should probably smack me with a two-by-four,” unless of course they were 3 minutes late to Pageantry practice. And though my physique, passed down from my benevolant genetics, are impeccable – I understand too that those who have a thyroid issue may not appreciate being treated differently for their size.  I don’t know why a thyroid makes you eat only the skin off the fried chicken, but I digress.

The point is, Shaming is real – and America should be Shamed for Shaming the most defenseless of all victims, the micro-phallus.  Sure, someone can’t change the color of their skin or sexual orientation, yet we can openly mock politicians and sports stars who are genital minorities?

Some of the most powerful men in history have had tiny dicks.  This may come as a shock to many of you, but mine is quite small indeed, despite my despotic good looks and otherwise impeccable genes.  As Lady Gaga would say, Baby I Was Born This Way.  I was born as an asshole with a tiny dick – but it’s the asshole on the inside causing all the problems, not the tiny dick outside.

I can’t help my penis being tiny, no more than your politicians can stop it from getting caught in things.  Cultures with the smallest penises have been slaving away for generations for natural male enhancement.  I can, however, impart with you the image of a struggling dictator, calloused in his gaze from watching his people suffer from his palace, and say we aren’t bad guys – we just have tiny dicks.

Kim Jon-Un

Tiniest penis in the world

(If this piece of satire has offended you in any way, I apologize. It isn’t  your fault – you were just born that way.)

Going out on Your Shield

lembert dome

I can see a fold in the rock above that might be a ledge big enough to stand on.  Below my feet lay a huge swath of stone, a low-angled slab littered with little Feldspar knobs just big enough to stand on.  These small knobs were my islands as I crept from one to the next, far from the sanctuary of the last bolt and further still from a smattering of boulders at the base of the cliff where my partner stood holding a useless belay.  I was perhaps sixty feet above the bolt, itself forty feet from the rocks below and into virgin territory equidistant from either of the routes 30 feet to each side.  Even if by some miracle the bolt were high enough to help me I’d be scraped to sinew in a sea of aggressive Feldspar bumps, sharper than those that grace other routes in Yosemite where the pounding of multiple feet have dulled their bite.

The climb was called Cryin’ Time Again, and it was late summer in 2013.  It wasn’t the first time I had been caught off-route, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Having to navigate oneself up a rock face should be a skill to have in the High Sierra, just as those who trod before you had to aquire before themselves making the first ascent of whatever it is you are repeating.  As most climbers repeat already-established climbs, conveniently in the front country and assessed for quality, this skill is like the knobby faces they climb on the weekends – considerably more dull.

Hoping for that ledge I realized that my interpretation of the rock was a bit rushed.  I had climbed it before, dammit.  This wasn’t supposed to be difficult.  Everything is in control, that ledge above will allow me to stop and think.  I can get myself off of this.

Half Dome

Mid-summer in 2011 the high passes were just opening from snow-melt to allow a rare glimpse for a motorist to catch the real Alpine.  Everything was still frosted with receding patches of old snow from a heavy winter of Pacific Storms as the cascades of Lee Vining Creek below billowed fat and full.  My partner Lucas and I had just come from spending a week in Yosemite Valley repeating a classic from the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing, the North-West face of Half Dome.  The heavy snowfall gave way to vibrant springs flowing out of the cracks at the bottom of Half Dome’s huge North face and we drank it full, embarking on our greatest adventure yet.

2011

A second time we were heading up Tioga Pass, yet not to haul and suffer ourselves up an imposing North Face – this time to enjoy the cooler High Country air and plod unceremoniously up quality routes near the road and burger shack.  With Half Dome now a month behind us we hastily threw together a plan to tick off some classics in the short season of mid-summer.

The climb Cryin’ Time Again went by like clockwork, itself meant as a warm-up before Lucas and I climbed the Hulk and the Third Pillar of Dana.  Each climber had his crux pitch as we swapped leads up the soaring face of Lembert Dome, coasting from a long summer of training well spent.  Uneventful yet fulfilling, the kind of climb that get done again and again.

It took only two years before spontaneous plans put me on that tall knobby granite dome.  In that time an accident I was involved at on Tahquitz Rock forced me to re-evaluate the role climbing took in my life as I watched it take the life of Lucas in a rappelling accident.  Every day is a struggle, a struggle to lose weight or to find success or to find love.  I needed the struggle of rock climbing, to have a dedication that taxed me physically and mentally and emotionally.  I liked who came out in climbing, the boy who once cowered before the wolf only to become a man and wear its hide.

Feet from the little ripple of rock above that offered respite I was grappling with a wolf, but my sword was sharp from a season of striking it against whetstones like Tahquitz Rock and The Incredible Hulk.  I found the holds I needed easily and executed.

In Rock Climbing you get to make the Big Kid decisions, putting other ones in perspective.  It’s hard to really give a shit about taxes or jury duty when it’s getting dark and your headlamp is in the car ten miles away.  A hundred different decisions come into play from a hundred different scenarios when I get into a rough spot.  The reality of Rock Climbing is that getting off-route or having to run it out far above protection are part of the game.  Granted, they aren’t often an aspect sane climbers solely seek.  Yet the reality of climbing big mountains is that they need to be respected, approached objectively with wide scanning eyes.

While hastily stashing gear in a pack that morning I took no more than a cursory glance at the topo, a newer edition to replace the one I had lost at some point, and remembered seeing an alternate start to the right of the original line of well-spaced bolts.  Fifty feet below the stance I was trembling on and soon after passing a bolt via moves I could not reverse, the thought popped into my head that perhaps I was not far enough to the right.
No matter.  I could get myself out of this.

An easy move, not unlike many I had done completely ropeless on long training runs up on Tahquitz that spring, and the fold above turned into a slightly-lower angled slab that from below gave the illusion of a ramp. My heart sank deep into my chest – this isn’t a ledge.  I can’t stop here.  I have to keep going.  Before I can decide which way would lead me out of harm I saw a bolt above and to the right just above the steeper parts of the rock, with another down and right another fifteen feet.

The climb was almost within reach, yet like the inmates on Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride I was woefully lurching.  Every-which way petered out into lichen and shrinking knobs – the only good ones lead straight up to that bolt, steeper and more brittle than those below.  If I could just get to it, I could get myself on-route and finish the pitch and go home, seemingly another world away.

Deep breaths slowed my heart as I focused on one thought at a time.  The situation could easily overwhelm my tiny brain, so I inspected the holds that may hold my life.  The small pink knobs were on clean rock, the first few above my head held well in place.  Past that a handful of baseball-sized knobs appeared, likely where the party who first climbed that right variation stopped to hand-drill the 3/8″ bolt.

I can’t recall how much time had passed on that ledge, only that as soon as I noticed my calves getting tired I knew it was time to move.  If I were to wait for a rescuer to come from above, hiking the long mile trail along the back carrying what would have to be a 400 foot rope, there was no guaruntee that my toes could hold up on the small little dimples I intermittently tap danced between.  The point of no return was far below, where hubris first questioned my decision to cast off ahead despite no bolts in sight.  My skills indeed saw a way up and out, yet the margin too slim. A handful of bad decisions had put me in a place where I had to make one really, really important one.

I remember a few weeks before when I had visited my parents and watched a UFC title fight.  The challenger hadn’t hurt the champion in 4 long rounds, and as the fifth bell sounded I wondered what the contendor might do.  No sane judge would vote a round his way, the only path to victory by knockout or submission, yet for the next five minutes he coasted along with the champ who was content to spar the time away with jabs from a distance.  No big moves from the young prospect, down on the cards, nothign that woudl resemble an attempt at ending the fight.  As I sat there watching him go through the motions, I wondered to myself what I might do.  Could I swing for the fences if defeat was anything but a home run?  Would the odds against me stack so heavy I collapse, or would I go out on my shield?

The holds are brushed off in-between breaths to keep from shaking.  As good as they were this was not territory often travelled and even the cleanest knobs had bits of lichen and grit.  I felt the first two knobs above and assessed – if the ground were at my feet instead of a hundred-plus foot header into talus this would be trivial.  I can do this.  Relax, use good technique.  If I just use the right technique I can come away, I know that.  100%.

Pull. Press. Step.  Step.  Reach. One last move as I trust a lone foot on a hold I scoured with a toothbrush and stood up.

From far away it might have looked casual, that some nut was obviously just taking a fairly dangerous variation to Cryin’ Time Again.  Immediately after I clipped the bolt I doubled over and dry-heaved hard into my lap.

Fuck.

Cryin Time Again

It took about two days before I stopped feeling empty.  A weird, shameful feeling that I had gotten away with something.  I didn’t consider the consequences too much then and still don’t, but the point was clear.  I swung my sword blindly and got the kill.

A few hours later I was sipping a Mango Margerita down in the town of Lee Vining, watching the clouds roll over the Dana Plateau.

That first time up Cryin’ Time Again in 2011 wasn’t nearly as exciting.  A few days later, after hoofing it up the Red Dihedral of The Incredible Hulk, a line of parties descending to the base of the Third Pillar of Dana deterred Lucas and I from our last objective.  We walked down the drainage, content with ourselves as we watched thunderheads build up above the heads of intrepid Alpinists hacking their own crowded ways up the Dana plateau, deciding not to race against time and squeeze a quickie in before the storm.

At the time, it didn’t bother me that we were turning back.  It bothers me less now.

Back at the Car

Back at the car, off to Mango Margerita’s and thinking about nothing.

Virtual Tour: Mount Woodson Classic Cracks

Virtual Tour: Mount Woodson

Classic Cracks

Ah, Mount Woodson.  Home to so many pea-sized boulders you’ll think  you are a giant in Yosemite.  Though the high walls hidden in the Sierra might make El Cap and Half Dome seem a more grand objective, wee little adventures can be had tromping among the oak and manzanita high in the San Diego front country.

To Get There

Take Hwy 67 East out of Poway via the I-15.  I come from North County and exit Camino Del Norte, taking it to Espola and Poway Road.  If coming from the South, you can take Poway Road from the 15, just outside of Mira Mesa.  Either way, once your off the freeway the rolling hills offer awesome views not far from The Gaslamp and Oceanside Pier.  Ah, the glorious East County…

Warm up boulders

Park along the West Side of the 67 on the Shoulder.  This highway in particular is (or was, before renovations) the 6th deadliest highway in the nation.

In addition to having to play Frogger if the left side of the pavement is packed on a weekend, arriving very early or very late in the day can lead to desperate passers-by looking on your seat for a cell phone or wallet.  I’ve been fortunate enough in dozens of visits to avoid either problem, but I make sure to leave my car devoid of valuables, taking anything I like up the hill with me.  Take care as well pulling out into traffic, as cars careening past the Golf Course on Sunday Night might as well be Patriot Missiles.

The Warm-Up

Warm Ups Close Up

The first three problems in this video are on the “Practice Boulders” – aptly named.

IMG_2346

The lieback flake is about 5.7*, and has a mantel move off of a good sloping bread loaf just at the top.  Get a spot if you are uncomfortable, as with any mantel it can put you off-balance and a fall may not be controlled.

There is no ‘easy’ way off, so I would suggest climbing these double cracks up-and-down first, as they are my favorite downclimb:

IMG_2347

Or, consider downclimbing this wide crack on the back, which has a very low crux and can be squirmed pretty easily:IMG_2348

The boulder with the other two problems has an easy walk off. The second problem is a 5.10A mantel problem – getting established up on it can be a bit tricky, and trust the friction for the press.  It isn’t too high and isn’t too difficult.  The final problem is a 5.6 flake that feels easy, though the slick texture might make the feet pop unexpectedly (while filming, I came off the first time I hopped on!)

Mantels are a great way to warm-up as they work the antagonistic ‘pressing’ muscle groups, getting the blood warm without taxing the shoulders/fingers/forearms for harder problems later in the day.  As with any exercise in climbing, a pushup is better done as part of a rock climb to learn technique simultaneously, so try to incorporate strength and conditioning on the rock for better (and more enjoyable) results!

There are a handful of other problems in this area** to try and I’ve highlighted them in “yellow” on the maps above and below – except for the “Baby Robbins Area” (there’s just too much to bother color coding!).

The “5.10B/C Face” and “5.10D Thin Crack” are CLASSIC Woodson problems – they might feel impossible at first if unfamiliar with the subtle techniques hard, thin granite problems require.  Impossible one day and a warm-up the next – that’s the magic of technical climbing.  Learn to trust rubber on small edges and keep body tension for these guys!

Further up the road, take the first Left up a steep faint trail just after the Gate to reach the Sunday Afternoon Boulder.

Sunday Afternoon Boulder 

Sunday Afternoon Boulder

The Sunday Afternoon Boulder is comprised of two large, toprope-sized blocks with a handful of problems ranging in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.12.

Sunday Afternoon Close Up

The Sunday Afternoon boulder is shown in the video, via a popular top-rope problem.  The yellow text are problems not covered in the video.

SAB

The 5.7 Flakes/5.9 Jam/Flare can be reached by hiking up around to the right to reach the SECOND pair of toprope bolts – the first are above a 5.12 tips crack.  On the opposite side of the boulder, around to the left of the ‘5.7 flakes,’ is a 5.8 wide crack.  This can be top-roped via long slings and a directional from the bolts, thought it is an awkward angle.  Beware if bouldering out any of these routes, as there is a somewhat-tricky mantel move after the climb to get on top of the formation – it is only about 5.7, but feels insecure, though easier than the climbs to get to it.

I Hear My Train A Comin‘ is a world class finger crack, made famous by its first ascentionist John Bachar who (in the 1980’s) onsight-soloed the route.  Even if the climb is above your level, walk up to it and imagine in the days before crash pads hiking the route first try.  That should give a good impression of the standards those who developed this area held themselves to. PROUD!  To the right of the boulder is an awesome 10D lieback flake that can be toproped called “Razors Edge” – a great consolation prize, and with a good spot not a bad boulder problem as well.

Heading back to the road and going uphill some more, one encounters a water tower shortly on the right – Just BEFORE the water tower is a short trail heading ~30 yards to the Blackfinger boulder (10A toprope or boulder problem, fingercrack), which isn’t covered, but worth checking out.  At the water tower, turn and look right (like in the video) and you’ll see the obvious hand crack on the Elephants Trunk.

Elephants Trunk/Butt

Elephants Trunk Boulder

This pint-sized boulder offers a lot of bang for it’s short stature.  The obvious hand crack is a fairly highball 5.10, the face to the left a fun 5.6-7 problem.  Multiple warm-ups or downclimbs can be found on the Southwest side of the boulder, and look carefully to the left of the elephants trunk for a really cool face climb.  It’s mid-5.10, dynamic, and a real blast.

IMG_2434

Robbins Crack

Robbins Crack Approach

We’ll skip straight ahead to the best 5.10 splitter in the area – Robbins Crack!  It’s about a 10 minute walk past the water tower, past the Seminar Wall/Lizards area (tall blocks on the first major switchback past the water tower), the playground (flat spot with a spray painted boulder when the road opens up and looks South towards Downtown San Diego) and underneath the mighty Uncertainty Principle (link).

Robbins Close Up

This problem shouldn’t be difficult to see from the road.  From the cracked rock you can see the problem at there is a path going around to the left to reach it – the cracks right on the road as well are good warm-ups, if you’d like to head straight to this area and skip the bottom stuff.  The giant overhanging face is Don’t Rock The Boat, more groped than any other 5.13 on the hill.  Missing hangers and epoxied holds make it seem a bit less enticing than other testpeices in the area, and modern crashpad/spotter technology might relegate it to a new-age boulder problem.  For now, it attracts the eye of the gym rat who sees steep crimps and big moves with bolts – not something too common at Woodson.

IMG_2819

The crux of bouldering Robbins is, of course, down-climbing it.  I suggest trying the problem first on a rope to make sure you are comfortable.  If you’ve got a good spotter (and, perhaps, a crash pad) it can be lead with a #1 camalot – place it while standing on the good edge about head-high and cruise the final 5.8-5.7 moves to the top.  Toprope bolts on the left make a directional useful for doing laps and are conveniantly right on top of an awesome 5.11 thin-face climb, Eric’s Face.  A common toprope problem, this isn’t to be missed!  Check out the top half of Lie Detector, which is only about 5.9 – the bottom is hard, thin, old school pin scar jams and pretty damn difficult!

This problem is named after the climbing legend Royal Robbins, who famously onsight-soloed this route for it’s first ascent in hiking boots – the locals had told him it was the best route in the area, just not that it hadn’t been done yet!

Baby Robbins

Baby Robbins Approach

Quite possibly my favorite area for a quick circuit is the Baby Robbins/Jaws area.  There is so much packed in so close, almost all short enough to be considered boulder problems, and in a cool little grove to boot.  Take the faint trail JUST BEFORE the sharp switchback that overlooks San Diego a second time – inside the bend of the road is a group of boulders making a cave-like feature hiding a popular 5.10 toprope and the V-Hard testpeice False Eppulator (or Rails Problem – the real ‘eppulator,’ named after Greg Epperson, is around the back on the West side, facing the road, up a short and fierce 5.12 dike).

Baby Robbins Close Up

Too Much Stuff!  Baby robbins is a great toprope, if you can keep the rope out of the crack (hint – run it over a shoe or a pack), and Jaws is the real gem of the area though the landing make it more of a solo than a boulder problem.  Other topropes include Girls Climb (10D) and Corn Flake (5.7) – Corn Flake can be started all the way down and right to add some mileage.

perfect slab area

DSC00502

With an open mind you can find more than a dozen climbs in this short area and the Perfect slab area above.  The Perfect Slab spot has a handful of awesome rails, mantels, highballs, friction climbs and knob-presses to round out Granite Technique, all doable with a single crash pad.  The face climb in the Virtual Tour Video is the “5.9” to the left of Baby Robbins, and just to the left of the “5.9” is another cool problem starting with a hop to a heart shaped hold.  Spend time here and learn the circuit, it will be a favorite spot to hit on the way up or down the hill.

The Cave

Cave Approach

The most obvious feature when hiking past this popular area is going to be the giant, overhanging Cave (11a).  This spot has a large grouping of problems to warm up on or work out.

Cave Area

The Cave is a gnarly highball or a toprope, but an easy escape off to the right at about half-height make it a reasonable boulder problem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dBJXD0adKw

The first problem I cover is Fisticuffs, a 5.8 fist crack/offwidth that has some face holds to mitigate the jamming needed. At this point in filming the video I was pretty beat.  Wearing socks and sweating hard in the heat I used some of those face holds instead of jamming – cheater!  Not really cheating, as it’s all climbing, but again – a great problem to try different techniques.  The “Aguille De Woodson” is a pair of featured fins that have a handful of fun warm-up face climbs.  If comign to work on this part of the hill consider jumping on these first.  To the left (East) of the Cave is an arching hand-to-fist crack called Bat Crack.  It feels insanely physical and is a problem worth bringing a few rolls of tape on.

1IMG_2813

The last problem climbed in the video is Johns Crack, not to be confused with Long’s crack (named after climbing legend John Long).  John’s crack feels easier than Robbins, but harder than baby Robbins.  A hard pull off the ground gets you established in the deeper, easier jams, so though it is tall and over a weird landing it’s not a very dangerous boulder problem.

Heading down hill you will find Alcoa and Stairway to Heaven, two test piece highballs/solos that see few ascents.

DSC00530

Up the road a tiny bit, at the sharp switchback, leave for a trail heading towards San Diego and head to the obvious giant overhanging block of Big Horn.  This boulder has toprope bolts to work out the myriad face climbs and variations, a great place to get a pump on granite.

So there it is, my first installment of Virtual Tours.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and more so I hope it has inspired you to explore more and have more fun.  That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

A Note About Grades*

I spent some time thinking about how best to provide information about grading these climbs – for the most part I used what Dave Kennedy called routes in his guidebook, but sometimes I took the liberty to give my own interpretation.  There is no real consensus, just personal interpretation, and I suggest climbing them and letting me know what you think – the climbing is the fun part, anyway!

A Note About Other Problems**

I know, I know.  There are a LOT of problems I missed, even right by the spots I covered.  I know, they are your very very favorite-ist climbs in the world.  This was just a sampling, and be sure that future posts will cover more areas and more classics, but feel free to let me know which you prefer – might add them into my next post!