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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

5 Reasons Why You Suck at Crack Climbing

Matt upside down

Hang in there, this post will get you through it!

“I don’t like crack.”

I’ll avoid the pedantic analogy to Crack Cocaine except to say that, like any drug, you just don’t know if you like it ’till you try.  Of course ‘trying’ to learn crack climbing often leaves the newbie in a bruised pile of humility.  That’s where the failure part comes in – the road you are taking sucks, your car is fine.

This article aims to deflate some preconceived notions of The Way to crack climb in place of easier, more bite-sized steps for success.  Just like any approach to training, one should check the ego at the door and keep in mind the word “Objective” when it comes to adding things to the plate (or scrapping all-together).

Started at Dixon

19 Year Old Greg

I started climbing in a gym in 2001, as a sophomore in high school, at Solid Rock Climbing Gym.  Unlike those before me I had the advent of Climbing Gyms to train and learn the craft, and back when I began that was exactly what one did – gyms were little more than steep concrete walls with bolt-on resin holds arranged by high school kids to give weekend warriors a way to get pumped on a Tuesday.  Posters all over of heroes on heroic routes – Chris Sharma on Realization, Tommy Caldwell on the Salathe, Fred Nicole on Slashface – lined the locker rooms, a reminder of ‘the real thing’ and why we were there .  The gyms were uncomfortable, dirty, and run amok by birthday parties for 11 year olds, a patron that was a necessary evil to keep the bay doors open for the handful of broke climbers in the area.  Real rock climbing was the point, and most everyone who shivered in the few abandoned all winter knew that.

Before my time there wasn’t a culture of gym climbing, and not long after the appearance of high-tech facilities there arose whole scores of climbers happily enjoying entire careers on plastic rock.  Granted, as a form of exercise a climbing gym is a bit more rad than blandly hefting  weights at 24-hour fitness or thudding on a treadmill watching TLC.  The idea, however, that one must attain a certain proficiency on indoor climbs before venturing outside seems silly and a bit too progressive a thought for my taste.  In the bright light and softly padded floors of a 70,000 square foot mega-gym the realities of rock climbing can seem harsh and unfriendly, and that feeling only grows the longer an expedition to the local crag is put off.

Climbers today do have tics on their side of the scoreboard, as all the steep terrain that is easily accessed in a gym makes them freakishly strong. More and more climbers are capable of climbing the BEST routes in the area, as the old-school hippies who trained by toproping laps on finger cracks don’t have the power-endurance for the relentless jug-hauls of the Red River Gorge.  Grades once thought elite are being climbed by children, and there in lies the problem – grades.

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Beat and Altitude Sick at 14,000 feet

My first time outdoors, my first time to Joshua Tree, my first big wall, were all horrible failures and soul-crushing realizations of what I really was as a climber.  At Dixon Lake, my first day crack climbing, I huffed and gasped my way up a 5.7 wide crack despite climbing mid-5.10 at the local gym.   Later on, a 5.8 slab told me I really didn’t know that much about rock climbing.  The idea then was to climb the fun climbs, and walking up to a crag one wouldn’t scan a guidebook and toss aside anything naturally protected because “I’m a sport climber, not a trad climber.”  You were a “Climber” and climbed rock climbs, and California is a Granite state – that means that our 500-mile long Sierra Nevada Batholith is split easily by cracks and flakes as volcanic activity echoes onto the cold rock and exfoliates itself.  By looking very, very carefully one might find rock climbs that resemble the moves typically found on gymnastic rock climbs, but to do so would be to look through a vary narrow telescope and ignore the real quality and unique formations our state has to offer.

That long stretch of Granite, those hundreds of miles of splitter cracks offering the best rock climbing in the state by popular consensus, they are a drug worth toking.  Trust me on that one.

I hope to shed some lights on the Do Nots and give an alternative approach – with the usual amount of callous humor and some ridicule for good measure.

Heart of Darkness

Rope-Harness, Ideal for belaying a buddy on a 5.11

So, why do you suck at crack climbing?

1.  You aren’t conditioned

Illusion Dweller

A chubbier version of myself losing a war of attrition on Illusion Dweller

Would it be wise to walk into a martial arts dojo, up to a stack of thick concrete cinder blocks, and smash your forehead against them with all your might?  What if a guy on Youtube did it? What if your core muscles are even stronger than his because of intense abdominal training?  After you are revived and told why there is a hematoma sticking on your forehead, I’d hope the Sensei would say that the man on the video had spent years slamming his dome into a number of increasingly dull objects.

You don’t do this, so don’t expect to climb cracks at your grade and not get hurt.

The idea of Conditioning shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone who spent more than a few months learning to climb in a gym. When we started our skin would quickly rot on our palms with blisters and a few short toprope laps would leave us completely gassed.  It hurt, then, to learn.  It hurt to learn how not to pendulum into the wall, how to wear snug climbing shoes, and it seemed as though getting tougher was an accepted facet of the game.  Just the same, crack climbing puts wear and tear on your body in another unique way, one that I can attest after enough practice is hardly noticable.

2.  You really aren’t that great at rock climbing

Split Finger

Huh. All that time spent in the Gym after High School didn’t get me ready for sharp Joshua Tree rock

Now, there are two problems going on with that last statement.  One, people try to climb the same grades on varying crack sizes as on top ropes in the gym.  A difficult reality, two, is that the perceived skill is actually much lower on even non-crack climbs because of the propensity of climbing gyms to inflate the ego’s of their patrons by inflating the grades on their climbs.

To put it simply, someone who climbs solely in a gym, who thinks they should climb a 5.11, should really climb a 5.9 crack – and may only climb 5.10 at best on any terrain.  Just like I was shut down just as handily on an offwidth as a climb with actual holds on it at Dixon Lake all those years ago, you can’t pick a route too easy. There is just too much to learn and mileage on real rock should trump it’s difficulty for the transition stages.  All forms of climbing should be practiced and a useful tool in a climbers quiver of techniques.  A few trips here and there can round out a skillset, much faster than re-learning how to climb all together.

3.  You dork around too much with tape gloves

Big Bobs

Big Bob’s Big Wedge – upside-down fist jams in an Iron Maiden, one of the few times I’ll tape up

It’s a classic sight, the 7am Campground Tape-Up at Joshua Tree.  In fear of losing skin (likely because of reason #1 and #2) hordes of weekend warriors from the nearby cities slap ounces of sticky restrictive tape at breakfast, only to be seen all over the park climbing the flared awkward face holds that appeared from a distance like jam cracks.  Buying tape, making the gloves, pulling them off carefully, discarding trash properly, are all things that get in the way of doing rock climbing – something I like to do the most of possible.

Now, before this is taken to the extreme by the Tape Religious out there, I don’t mean to say NEVER tape.  I tape on hard cracks, ones at my limit where I will lose skin going for the move or forcing myself on lead, as well as roof cracks.  However when top roping, running laps on classics, or getting mileage in on cold days, I prefer to leave the tape at home and learn to use my feet and finesse the route instead of bear down.  Sometimes, at least on toprope, that means I’m falling – but falling and learning is much better than cleanly climbing a route wrong.

4.  You don’t climb enough of them

elsas crack

Running laps on a Woodson 5.6

This one should be self explanatory, but there is a short bit of information that I’d like to share.  The sad reality of Trad Climbing is that it is a double edged sword, in that it takes a TON of mileage to become proficiant yet the logistics of all the gear and preparation for each route make it damn near impossible to fill a day at Joshua Tree with anything less than a handful of crowded classics.   By climbing with less, and learning the craft to a quick and efficient level, there is ample opportunity to climb 3 times as much terrain in a calender year with the same amount of climbing days.

5.  Your ego needs to be checked

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Five 5.10 pitches down, five more to go. Whose idea was this anyway? Oh, mine. Oops….

People hate to look at their own faults.  Our ego will do anything and everything to protect itself, to compartmentalize what should and shouldn’t matter into boxes of familiarity and comfort zones.  The first breakup, the first job you lost – all those things likely gave you the tools to survive the next ones.  If they didn’t, then you’re likely learning them to this day.  The 5.14 climber who lives in San Francisco yet won’t climb The Astroman because “it’s a trad climb” is scared to fail.  The rock is oblivious to how it is protected, and I’ve long held the belief that a climber should be able to do the same moves above a crash pad as a quickdraw as a well-placed Camming device.  Refusing to run laps on easier routes in order to learn will hurt his chances of success, as some 5.14 climbers wouldn’t be caught dead spending time on a 5.8 hand crack.

Chris Sharma has done multiple trad climbs up to 5.13 and Daniel Woods can be seen on a North Face special learning to hand jam on a river rafting trip.  Try it out, and try it out with the same open mind you used getting into the sport – you just might like it.

So, how can I get better?

I don’t claim to be a master crack climber, yet in my time spent I’ve learned some tricks that allowed personal growth for my own game.  Whether it was planned or inadvertent I came into the habits I have because they WORK, objectively – I don’t care how I look or what route I’m caught on, I just want to have the most fun possible!

1.  Climb easier cracks

Climbing easy cracks, preferably of lower angle, can allow you to feel out the friction on the jams and understand how much pressure should be placed on the backs of the hands.  A jug can be gripped with all your might without discomfort, yet a flared jam will only tear skin and bruise bone.  It is important to learn how to hold on with jams just enough to stay in it but not too much to unnecessarily pinch nerves and, more importantly, not get too pumped.  In addition the movement will help condition an athlete’s skin – and bones – to deal with the rigors of hand and foot jams.

Some of the best times I’d had climbing so far have been on cruiser splitters high in the mountains, where I wasn’t thinking “Left hand-Jug, right foot-edge, right hand-undercling” but moving thoughtfullly along a line cut across stone.  Protection can be thrown in whenever and on those easy big climbs you can get the full-mountain adventure at a fraction of the cost, left skipping back to the car with energy to do it again tomorrow.

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5.7 Offwidth for Breakfast!

2.  Toprope quality cracks of different sizes 

The key word here is quality, and I have a theory on that.

Awkward crack sizes are VERY important, and being able to stuff various body parts into differing fissures with the full bag of imagination is vital to success trad climbing.  However, that kind of movement isn’t conducive for learning repeatable technique.  A quality crack shouldn’t be too grainy, should be fairly paralell to force real jamming skills, and should be fun – so you enjoy doing it and will do it again.  Even offwidths and chimneys can be rewarding when viewed as breakthroughs in technique. Getting stuck, having the climb feel impossible, only to make a small adjustment and breeze up the route is the heart of Crack Climbing.

corase

Gloves, a jacket and a beanie at the ready!

3.  Climb when it’s colder

Slimy, slippery jams are no fun, and neither is losing skin to them.  Sweat can act as a lubricant for crack climbing, sometimes much worse than steep routes with big holds.  While you can go though gallons of chalk and buckets of tape to stay in the crack, it’s a better idea to walk around to the other side of the formation to climb in the shade.  Crack climbing is often very physical, especially in the learning phases and in wider cracks, and the staccato, conservative movements that make progression possible favor heavy layers.  Just make sure to hike up the sleeves past the wrists, lest they get in the way of a deep hand jam.

Where can I practice this?

For those in Southern California, you are in luck.  We are in a bastion of crack climbs and have to our disposal a plethora of options across a wide swath of San Diego and Riverside counties.  With a light rack of cams and a patient partner there is ample opportunity to get your skills up to where you’d like them.

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Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree – A great place to camp and lead classic climbs

B2/B3 5.3 – Toprope or lead.  Trash Can Rock has a handful of great easy cracks to start out on.

The Bong 5.5 – Lead or TR.  One of the absolute best routes in the park for easy jamming.

Granny Goose 5.7 – Lead.  Hand cracks, offwidths, and a bit of liebacking to boot.

Sail Away 5.8 – Lead. one of the more clean splitters at the grade.  Great protection and movement, an ideal first lead for the grade as well.

The Flake 5.8 – Lead. Offwidth, hands, a chimney and face climbing.  This is the graduation ceremony to 5.8 in Joshua Tree.

Dogleg 5.9 – Lead. Yes, it’s 5.9 not 5.8. Physical, long, warm – a great option for a winter day.

Popes Crack 5.9 – Lead. If you are a 5.10 sport climber as well consider the direct finish – it’s bolted and fairly easy for the grade.

Exercist 10a – Lead or TR after leading Nuurns romp.  An excellent finger crack.

Left Banana Crack 5.10B – Lead or TR. A great steep hand crack through a weird flare.  An easy first lead at the grade because of the awesome protection.

Illusion Dweller 5.10B – Lead.  An amazing testpeice of leaning fist jams, steep hands and finger-jam layback.  Worth every star the book gives it.

Tax Man 5.10B – Lead or TR. Glorious finger and hand crack with face holds to an awkward wide crack at the top.

Spiderman 5.10B – Lead or TR. everything from fingers to offwidth.  This one is a dousy.

Meteorite Crack 5.10C – Lead or TR. A steep burly hand crack.

Clean and Jerk 5.10C – Lead or TR.  Be careful running laps on this ultra-classic, as the sandbagged route is a popular one and it sucks to walk up to a conga line on the thing (trust me).

Jumpin’ Jack Crack 11A/B – Lead or TR.  Chimney and a hand crack through a roof.  Glorious and tough.

Hobbit Hole Offwidte V0 – a damn difficult proposition for your average boulderer!

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Mount Woodson

Mount Woodson – The best place to learn harder cracks, offwidths, and climb with only a crash pad

Elsa’s crack 5.6 – Lead/Solo/TR. A toprope often gets stuck, so if you are planning to use a rope take care.

Corn Flake 5.7 – Solo/TR.  Don’t place gear behind the awesome hand/fist sized flake! Multiple crack boulder problems nearby.

Sunday Afternoon Boulder 5.7-5.9 – several topropes available, bring long slings.

Milkbar 5.8 – TR/Lead. think finger jams and layback around a roof. Sweet.

Baby Robbins Crack 5.9 –  Boulder/TR.  Often the scene of broken hearts.

Big Grunt 5.9 – Solo/TR.  An awkward start leads to spooky chimneying…

Johns Crack 5.9+ – Boulder/Lead/TR. not to be confused with Longs crack. Low crux and flat landing make it a great boulder problem.

Robbins Crack 5.10a – Lead/TR/Boulder.  A MUST do.

Blackfinger 5.10a – TR/Boulder.  I actually led this the first time I got on it.  I don’t recommend bothering to.

The Crucible 5.10C – TR/Lead. A good place to start using tape.  An ass kicker.

Jaws 5.11A – TR/Solo.  One of the best splitters at the grade in the area.

Drivin’ South 5.11D – TR/Boulder.  A killer finger crack and the first of many 5.12-ish in the area.

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Tahquitz Rock

Idyllwild – A great place for mileage on easy routes and to climb the best stone in So Cal.

The Trough 5.4 – A great first longer route.

White Maidens Walkway 5.4-5.7 – good luck staying on route, a glorious cruise up an awesome buttress.  Varied, fun.

Angels Fright 5.6 – The best 5.6, but heads up – the slab at the end spooks people out, but its 5.5.

Coffin Nail 5.8 – The best 5.8 pitch in Idyllwild.  Combine with Traitor Horn for an all-time classic.

Long Climb 5.8 – a great 5-pitch jaunt with offwidth, chimney, hand cracks, and even some face climbing.

Daves Deviation 5.9 – Technical fingers with a slick, thin crux.

Flower of High Rank 5.9 – Splitter crack through a roof.  Climb as one pitch, or else!

Whodunnit 5.9 – So Cal’s Nutcracker, this route has it all – a chimney and thin crack crux, 5.8 roof, all on clean north-facing rock.

Consolation 5.9+ – the twin-handcrack crux will sap you, almost as much as the loose awkward 5.8 moves just below it.

El Camino Real 5.10a – The crux pitch can be reached via Coffin Nail with some trickery, and toproped.   A worthy lieback.

Human Fright pitch 1 5.10a – a great warm-up for harder climbs or thing to do laps on after reaching the anchor via Angels Fright.

Y-Crack 5.10B – An awesome, steep, upside-down Y on the North Face of Tahquitz.  A warm route, great for afternoons or shoulder seasons.

Johnny Quest 5.10B – more like a boulder problem on a rope, a classic none-the-less.

Super Pooper 5.10B – An awesome, long, sustained 5.10 pitch. Consider finishing on Price of Fear for an all-time classic link.

The Vampire 5.11a – Often considered the best route in So Cal, and attainable by most mortals.

Etude 5.11a – Sometimes it’s important to learn to climb things that appear impossible and hold-less…

Insomnia 5.11C – Arguably the best single-pitch in Idyllwild.  Go see for yourself ;D

Remember – it isn’t what you can climb, but what people on Facebook think of you.

Bathed by Light

On May 17th my good friend and climbing partner, Lucas Dunn, passed away on Tahquitz Rock.  Writing has always been a way I’ve worked through things in my life and after the accident members of our little community reached out with similar experiences.

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It’s such a familiar place. The wind lashing at my back. Cold granite against uninsulated skin. Pressing my arms into my core as I hold a belay device with a frozen hand, the other clenched in a pant pocket. I have yet to correlate this part of the climbing experience with anything positive. Many of my happiest moments on big climbs came because of anxiously waiting on belay ledges, but I could never put it out. Not like traffic or a bad movie. The emptiness and void tore at my soul and the loneliness stripped away my ego and left me reminding myself why I was on the Hulk in the first place. I needed to be there.


It has been almost a month to the day since my friend Lucas passed away while descending the Vampire at Tahquitz Rock, in the sleepy town of Idyllwild. It was a breezy and cool morning in mid-May, cold and chaotic at the high belays. While loose rock caused the tragedy, I can’t help but remember the wind while tied into those bolts. I was so relieved to have gotten up that pitch of climbing, and with only short cruxes after amidst moderate crack climbing the route should have been in the bag. In the captains chair, facing an environment that made me uncomfortable, I opted out. Something I am prone to doing. In the middle of June, two-and-a-half pitches up the Sunspot Dihedral, I wouldn’t get that choice.


Climbing had been a part of my life for the better part of 11 years, and for one reason or another has been woven into my DNA. The accident didn’t stop me from doing what I loved any more than it stopped me from eating. Indeed, it seemed that once my appetite stored up some calories I was ready to head back up to climb.

Unfortunately, ‘climb’ is not a singular thing you can do, like Buy or Win. A big hike up a peak is no less ‘climb’ than a 10 foot plastic boulder problem in a high school gym. I could waltz up the same easy routes I’d always done, but once it came to a runout or loose section I couldn’t help but put two and two together. I couldn’t help but consider the consequences of a slipped foot at this instance or if that block came loose. Though objective and rational I was constantly faced with these damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situations and having to reconcile mortality on a Sunday afternoon tromping up an easy climb with my Mom.

I knew, objectively, that I was safe. I knew that I loved to climb. The brain and the heart are two VERY disconnected organs. The f*#kers could never agree on anything.


If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. I don’t mean to say that in any, we’re all gonna die, sort of way. While that phrase has lost no truth in 10,000 years of being spoken, what I’m getting at is you should make SURE to do some things on it – NOW. Somehow a bucket list has come to mean a list of things you do as you’re dying.

I call bullsh#t. A bucket list should be something that, when faced with a few free hours or couple hundred bucks extra in your bank account, you indulge by doing something that you actually want to do. Start a garden, get shot out of a cannon, whatever.

Up until recently, I had piggybacked on my climbing partners ‘list’. Of course, it was all climbing, but what else interested me? If I was going to delegate a portion of my life to accomplishing some goal, of course I would spend my twenties doing all of the ones under the folder ‘rock climbing.’ So in some way, I was eating my Spinach and Broccoli. Lucas had, written out, all of his climbing goals. There weren’t many, but they were PROUD for a kid his age. At 21 he had impressive goals, but more importantly he was on the track to completing them – even a bit ahead of schedule.


Back track two years. Another freezing belay, another buffeted granite buttress. This time it is the classic Red Dihedral route, on the incredible Hulk formation in the High Sierras. Relatively moderate, but incredibly sustained, this was a massive step up for both of us. When looking back at the routes I was really proud of, the climbs that defined who I was and my style… a surprising amount of them I suffered through with Lucas leading charge. I’d gotten pretty good at getting through those hard days, and had a few tricks up my sleeve. For this belay in particular, I had built it just before a short crux section, a favorite trick of mine.

The Red Dihedral was hyped by none other than superman climber Chris McNamera as “a HUGE day” if done the popular way, Car-to-car. It was about as hard as I could climb, at sea level and right off the deck, but losing 50 pounds of baby fat had given me some confidence. That, and a teenage ropegun.

A few hours earlier, we had bushwhacked up an intermittent trail for four hours to reach the formation. The day started out looking Huge, and sitting at a cold belay with sand draining slowly through the hourglass only added to its ‘hugeness.’


Sometimes I would just stare at the rock, when tethered to a belay. I would pick a spot and disect the grains of the granite, absorbing myself in the immediacy of what is in front of me and tuning out the noise of the obvious racket all around. A great coping mechanism, really. Finding a spot, the eyes dial in to the diorite, feldspar, quartz. Small mites appear, where were they before? Were they always here? They have six… no eight legs. They seem to run around without any appearant agenda, oblivious and aloof to their spectacular position three hundred feet up a cliff.

Suddenly, from somewhere above the wind and I, I hear it.

Off Belay!!

The locking carabiner is quickly detached – I’d been holding the gate with my fingertips to start spinning as soon as I heard the call. A bit of OCD, a speed climbing habit, or some task to focus on to take me out of the reality of my position. I hurredly perform all of these tasks, not thinking outside of their immediacy, until the rope tugs at my harness and pulls me up towards the summit and glory while my fat ass drags me the other direction.

“Climbing, Lukasz!”

Two years after climbing the Red Dihedral, I was back with a different Luca(s).

Positive Vibrations and The Salathe Wall. Positive Vibrations and The Salathe Wall.

That was the mantra playing out in my mind for the six weeks I spent living in Idyllwild. Like Lucas, I had a list. It was his list, and I’d be damned if I let him down.

Every decision I made was to make those goals happen, it seemed. Stay out late and drink with the locals, or early bed time for a morning run? Laundry or a hard bouldering session? My girlfriend had left me a few months earlier and I traded an apartment and domestic life for a trailer in the mountains. Each morning I’d wake up, resenting the dawn, I would remind myself that this was MY choice to be here. I was here for a reason.

The day of the accident was a training day. To do those big climbs we had a perfect training ground, The Vampire. Sustained, but with distinct cruxes – not unlike the tall granite walls we were heading out to do that summer. A week before, I had another training day, climbing Super Pooper to Price of Fear. For Lucas, everything had a natural progression – this led to that led to this.

I was working at the hiking shop for the Pacific Crest Trail hiker season. It’s a short window, lasting about six weeks from late April to early June, depending on the snow that year deposited on high mountain passes. It was my last 6 weeks working for the company, after spending 7 years down in San Diego at another location, and the plan was to follow the hikers north to the high mountains after the through hiker season ended, and take whatever I had saved up with me to buy enough beer and cliff bars to live a few months among the bigger peaks. Early June Lucas and I would climb The Salathe Wall on El Capitan, and early July we had booked to climb Positive Vibrations on the Incredible Hulk.

A few days after the accident I promised myself I would do those things. It was time to start the natural progression, and finish the goals we set out to do.


If there were any doubt of climbing being a part of my genetic makeup, that was washed away after receiving all of the support from the community in the wake of Lucas’ death. THIS was home to me. I would sit in my trailer after work, exhausted and still trying to put the pieces together, and read wonderful message after wonderful message on facebook, email, even hand-written and left on my windsheild. For a guy who always thought himself as a bit of a loner it was, to say the least, humbling.

One such character was a friend-of-a-friend, a typical climber that fits no stereotype. Lukasz was driven, a humble man with a modest lifestyle and rich qualities. Not a bad climber, either, and my lone day climbing with him was out at Red Rocks as he climbed on .12’s in the Gallery with a big grin.

The die-hards, you can’t keep them off the rock. As soon as we started talking, inevitably it came out that I had scores to settle. I knew I wasn’t ready to lead the pitches I was preparing myself for on Positive Vibrations, and Lukasz had mentioned wanting to try the Sun Spot dihedral, a huge corner system rising just to the left of Positive Vibrations. A touch harder, but I could have the confidence of a top-rope to allow me the experience without the consequence.

I knew I wanted to climb the Salathe Wall and Positive Vibrations, but I also realized that I wanted them on my terms – I wanted to do Lucas proud and lead those cruxes. Those days will come soon enough.


“Climbing, Lukasz!”

The rope above was tugging hard. We both knew we were in for some tough work ahead and had to move.

Lukasz had just climbed the third pitch of the Sun Spot Dihedral route. The first two pitches are shared with Positive Vibrations, but are not too difficult and have this big, distracting dihedral above you to take the mind off any supposed cruxes. This pitch, however, busts left – away from the windy furrows of the ‘Vibes and off to the arcing corner system that makes the Sun Spot up above.

Somehow, back at the trailer 3 weeks ago, I had told myself I would just be top-roping today and could just enjoy the climbing. Now, faced with a 15-foot traverse without protection, harder than any pitch I’d tried since the accident, I feel a sharp sting. Hubris, I think.

Three hundred feet up, seven hundred to go, and I realize I may have f*#ked up.

I claw my way out an alcove and up under a roof, big and dead horizontal, that cuts left across a steep slab with only a down-pointing flake for your hands and naught for your climbing kit to slide into. Just before I pull the last piece of protection that keeps me onto the right-most end, I put it together – the swing, the helmet not doing sh#t, a crash, lowering in the wind, helicopter, hours passing by.

There is a saying I jokingly have with friends, when the moves get somewhat spicy. You see, unlike my parents generation, or theirs before, I don’t have to worry about a draft. Not really. This undercling, this is my vietnam. This is my chance to do the thing that is scary. Of course it’s bullsh#t, and not at all a good analogy – more of a funny thing. However, in fight-or-flight lizard brain mode, you don’t really consider the intracacies of that fallacy. Instead you pull fiber off the bone and crank on the cold stone like you’re garroting Charlie.

A moment later, there I was, firmly wedged in the hand crack that signaled the end of the traverse.

At least I knew I could do it.


I had a moment of confidence as well, on the Red Dihedral, with the other Lucas. It was on my first hard lead, when I had climbed myself into a corner that I had to climb out of, both literally and figuratively. Of course, climbing to me is MADE of these moments, when you have to act and react to stimuli and be fully engaged.

Trivial as it was, I got pretty damn scared on the smooth 5.9 laybacking. Pulling out of it, I realized that I could get up the cruxes, that if I could do one maybe I could do them all.


A funny thing happened just before I joined Lukasz at the belay atop pitch 3. I started to actually ENJOY the climbing. It was fun. It was engaging. Had the situation been a bit different, I could see this as almost being a blast.

I wonder often how the whole climb must have felt for Lukasz. You see, I had been living and traning at altitude for 6 weeks for a very similar climb. Lukasz came from a conference in Japan the day before, flying into berkely then crashing in Lee Vining. Hardly an ideal pre-race ritual.

Looking up at the long, sustained fourth pitch I could sense his day was catching up with him. As he fought his way to the top, disappearing soon into the tightly packed corner systems, I was left alone at the belay yet again.


Being with Lucas as he was passing, I had to tell myself that life was bigger than what it was. That there was a deeper meaning to who he was, to who I am, and to what way I lived my life. So much of it had been fight-or-flight thinking, self preservation if you will that allowed me to wrap my brain around what had just happened.

Do this, hold that, wave this. Just do the thing, do the thing, do the thing you have to do. Don’t think about why or what, do it. It is so common in climbing, but like Miyomoto Musashi wrote “when you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.”

Somehow I got through that morning. If I could get through that accident, I could get through the next crux. I knew it.


I’m snapped awake again by a tug at my harness.

“On Belay!!”

screw-screw-screw CLICK!!

“Climbing, Lukasz!”

Right in front of my face is 5.11 climbing, with 170 feet of 9-something milometer rope out. Lukasz had to fight for this pitch, and he is a monster. Falling down low, with so much rope stretch, will likely deposit me back on this ledge for the first 15 feet, and despite all the objectivity in the world it is not a pleasant idea to take long top rope falls way up here.

Pulling hard, digging deep, I started moving – right off the belay I am nothing but frozen sinew and fear. I strain at each reach and claw out the gear buried in the high sierra granite. Just like the pitch before it was right at my limit, it scared me, and from the crucible I came out finding the delicate steps and jams to be a beautiful dance across stone. That same fear turned itself into affirmation of who I was, of what I was – that this climbing stuff, it isn’t that bad.

At the belay above, again I was left to my own devices. For hours this cycle repeated itself.

Coming to the end of the difficult climbing, it was clear the route was in the bag. There was a lot left, a circuitous ledge system above and some supposed variation Lukasz wanted that would take the last pitch of the Positive Vibrations to lead to the summit ridge.

Waning from Jet Lag, I let Lukasz take a breather as I set off on the easy pitches, leading to a cold dank alcove. We traded off the sharp end of the rope so Lukasz could navigate the final pitch of Positive Vibrations, above and around the corner that made my little alcove I sat in. Just as he pressed up onto the block a few feet above me, he turned down to say a few words that were obscured by a stiff breeze. Apparently things changed rapidly where he was, or so I guessed he had said, as the sun shone strong on his back and face as he glanced down to me. Judging by the angle of the shadows I knew we had to move.


That same cold alcove, that same cold belay – I find it all over. I found it on the Mithril Dihedral on mount Russel, I found it on the Leaning Tower, I found it on the Red Dihedral. With each of those there was a moment, when the sun arced high enough overhead to light the nooks and crannies that had avoided it thus far, when you are bathed in warmth and comfort for the first time that day. Long routes require early starts, and early starts push the loving rays of sun on North-Facing routes until well into the afternoon.

Time erases some memories but immortalizes others. I’m reminded now of a moment on the Red Dihedral, just before the final crux fingercrack. We had froze and sweat our way up the lower corner and were faced with this tall, thin obstacle with a prominent crack splitting it. Just as Lucas led up into it, confidently jamming and pulling through it, the sun shone bright on our backs, illuminating our smiling faces and seeing us to the summit.


That cold alcove, waiting for Lukasz, that was the worst one. All around me the rock was unsettled, loose, laying about carelessly without regard for life below. It was dank, chilled, and stank of old urine. Looking up above, just a few feet away, I saw a steep rock wall. We had told ourselves that the hard work was over, and that the summit was all but guarunteed. Looking up at the steep, presumably blank wall above, then looking back down the trail that lead to my car… it could not seem further away.

What after this pitch? What if, as I’m leading, I get off route and step on a loose boulder? What if the confusing ridge puts me off-route, eating up time, and we are stuck up here in the dark? Could I see rocks falling, or the end of my rope after the rappel?

Just as my mind reeled from one catastrophe to the next, I felt a familiar tug on my harness.


Losing a friend will certainly help you understand how important relationships are. In between my time in Idyllwild working at the shop and my summer in the sierras I went on an overnight backpacking trip with my little brother in the San Jacinto mountains of Southern California. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him better the last few years, and had been meaning to find something we could do together besides climb. Lucas passing away helped me turn that “been meaning” part into reality.

We hiked out to Red Tahquitz and set up a camp on the very tip top of a peaklet, overlooking the gorgeous desert divide, carumba, Saddle junction and even the peak. Just a few weeks earlier I had run the ridge that makes the divide, passing through several forms of mountain ecosystem while following a path that lopped back and forth, East and West along the skyline. That evening, with my brother, the sun shone bright yellow, then orange, then red, then pink.

That first night, sitting on top a ridge looking down on a mountain that had been such an instrumental part of my life, I had clarity. I had clarity that this was what I did, that this was what I loved. That climbing is only my way of interpreting a beautiful world that I deeply wanted to know, that I intimately wanted to be a part of. Without Lucas’ list I had my own, I know what it is I am seeking in the mountains.

Later that summer the ridge, the peak, and almost all that I gazed upon would be ravaged by an incredible mountain fire. Fortune gifted me an evening with the Goddess before the Phoenix took her away. I will remember that night the rest of my life.


I waited.

This time I heard no ‘on belay.’ The wind must have drowned him out.

I jammed my fingers in the awkward, flared cracks in my little alcove and went to follow Lukasz, yet again. Yet again I asked myself if I could top out this next obstacle.

Both hands on the little pinnacle, press, feet up. As I stood and unclipped the bolt, I wondered at the change in color right in front. So much of that day had been spent staring at granite that I started to notice nuances – this rock was different. It was yellow. I turned around and saw why, as the sun painted the rock from low on the horizon beautiful autumn colors. Following the vistas back, forth, and down took my breath away; below was a thousand feet of air, looking all down the Positive Vibrations route sweeping away beneath. Climbing this penultimate pitch would put us at the end of the Red Dihedral, on to familiar ground.

I turned back to the rock and looked for my way, and saw it weave and trend right across the most gorgeous rock I had seen in my life.

Hand jam after hand jam, this was the last hard climbing, but it wasn’t hard. It was secure. It was warm. The deep jams comforted.

Every time I had to move my feet I was forced to look down at the route Positive Vibes. I was supposed to be here, but not like this. I’m with the wrong Lucas.

When people leave your life unexpectedly it takes a long time to really understand what it means to be without them. Even to this day I will pull out my phone as if to text something funny to Lucas. No longer distracted by fear, wind, cold, I realized that I was ON Positive Vibrations, but not with Lucas. Eight, ten, twelve weeks of my life I had spent preparing to climb this route, with Lucas, and leadthis pitch. Here I was, but Lucas was nowhere to be found. The reality was, he would never be there, not like before. So many months I had envisioned being up here with him, and being there without put pencil to paper. I understood what had happened, I understood what life was going to look like.

I knew I could go on, I knew that if I could get up Sun Spot Dihedral I could cross any obstacle that came my way. I also knew, just then, that I had to do it without my friend.

I danced my way up the best and worst pitch of my life, leaving tears and saving memories.


It was late in the evening when Lucas and I got back to our cars after climbing the Red Dihedral. It was unsaid, and our ego’s may have been looking too far forward to realize it, but we did something amazing that day. For us. We pushed hard, jumped into the arena and overcame. It is so hard in life to step out of your comfort zone, especially when there are sunny climbs in Tuolumne meadows a stones throw from the road. These are the moments that define you, that you live by. The rock stripped us bare and we built ourselves back up, a bit longer in the tooth and no worse for wear.

Having a beer at the Woah Nelly deli just before closing, Lucas with an Apple Juice, life was good. Life is good.

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Lukasz on the approach to the Hulk

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Lucas on Roller Coaster in Joshua Tree

Middle Palisade East Face

Here’s a fun story I put on Supertopo I wrote about climbing Middle Palisades East Face, an easy scramble.  The ‘unroped’ part is an inside joke referring to a series of hilarious, hubris-driven trip reports written recently.


eff….

It all started when I was born. Much later I went to climb Middle Palisade.

I spent the previous evening in Bishop, out in the Buttermilks. I love desert camping in summer, if the temperatures are reasonable. The sky is just a bit prettier, and I had a chance to try my new pastels. I had thought about learning to draw, or paint, or sketch or whatever. Sitting in my camp chair with thirteen dollars worth of art supllies, trying to figure out how the f*#k to draw a bush… not really what I had in mind. I think I understood why so many people just smear things around and infer objects, because pastels have the feeling of drawing with crayons while drunk.

I completely slept through my alarm. That’s the problem of having a habit of not only using your phone as a morning wake-up but also a stereo to lull you to sleep. Somewhere in the middle of The Lord of the Rings soundtrack my battery died, thus leaving any quick morning plans up to local birds (and how annoying they are). Unfortunately for me, the CHIRP-CHIRP-CHIRP didn’t arrive ’til almost dawn.

Well, who needs an early start? This was a speed(ish) ascent!

You see, I’ve been a runner long before I’ve been a climber, and though I dedicate myself to climbing much like the sky is dedicated to being blue I can’t help but know I have this other thing that I do. This other sport that is kinda sorta nothing like the other but I have to keep doing it, or I won’t be able to do it well and get frustrated. It’s a weird relationship – just like climbing, there are ups and downs with running big trails. The middle chunk is always so fun – the crux pitch, the smooth and flat meadow you hit at 10k…. but it’s the parts on either end that you kinda sorta push out of your memory.

There’s a great bit Mitch Hedberg used to do about eating an apple and being left the core to deal with. Well, whatever, I learned to just deal. Whether it was High School cross country practice or hauling a heavy pig up some grainy slab that somehow constitutes as a trail, we have to pay a price somewhere to find our little perches.

Climbing is f*#king hard. Go to any major sport climbing crag and throw a rock and you’ll find someone that can out-climb me. Same with running, as I am still a long ways away from my high school mile time. Of course, 5 days a week of training pulling muscles isn’t the most conducive to a good foot turnover, but I digress. I am not that great at either sport for a guy who does little else.

Lucky for me, the venn-diagram of runner-c#m-climber is just a thin little slice. Put the two together and I can do some pretty cool stuff. As someone who was fairly recently 200+lbs, it’s hard to describe how awesome it is to prance along a slabby buttress in the evening light. Even more so when, only a handful of years ago, that same buttress was an all-day epic ending in headlamps and promises to never return. Regardless of what I’m sorta built for, I think because I just enjoy the hell out of moving fast through easy terrain. It just doesn’t get any better sometimes (well, home baked cookies…).

So anyway, back to the mountain of many souls, or whatever.

A few days before I had climbed the West Ridge of Conness with mama. We backpacked in to young lakes before climbing the 12,000+ foot peak, so combined with a week camping in Tuolumne I figured my acclimitization to be pretty good. It’s hard to look at a topo and try to get a scale for how fast you should, or could, move through the terrain. Some gnarly drainages might contain beautiful and gradual switchbacks, and just as likely a flat field could in turn become a swamp.

The best bet to plan your day is always to go by elevation gain, not mileage. ESPECIALLY on the East side of the sierra, where a few puny miles can get you on top of fourteen thousand foot ridgelines. So let’s see, 6k feet elevation gain,
7+miles out, ummm…. shitload of energy bars and aqua mura drops.

The snowball effect exists in big walls, but in big runs too. Go a bit faster, finish a bit sooner, take a lighter shell and less food. That last part I rarely skimp on, as being caught way out calorie deprived feels demonstrably shittier than carrying an extra thousand calories. Let’s not forget, too, I used to be a fatty. Any excuse to pack on the snickers is fine by me!


Quick and sweaty selfie!

I hit the trail head at a less-than-ideal 5:45AM. The nice thing about my start time was watching the sunrise light up the sage and wildflowers low on the approach was pretty stellar. Days are so long, especially in summer, but you just can’t beat the beauty of that early morning sunrise. I had a Patagonia Piton Hybrid Pullover on over a Mountain Hardwear Elmoro shirt, which was a layering system I liked using in situations where I might not want to stop to pull off layers. That’s one thing I always notice about moving fast, it has to do more with efficiency sometimes than that extra mile in training. Putting on sunscreen while hiking uphill and changing music while you pee… THAT’S the way!

The first few miles of the South Fork of Middle Palisade are gentle bumps along a creek amid that high desert chaparral that covers the entryways into the Eastern high sierra, some of my favorite terrain to run in. You can tell because of how many wonderful pictures I took (hint – there are none from this section).

As the trail flattened, I could kick hard and move fast, and in the slight uphills I would alternate fast hiking with a bit of jogging. I had pegged my day as possibly up to 11 hours total, based on the mileage and gain, so knew I had to chill out a bit and go easy because I had a long day ahead of me. Of course I didn’t listen to my brain, but my brain isn’t so smart sometimes anyway. What does he know?

The trail is absolutely stunning up to Finger Lake, heading up improbable looking gullys and drainages and along gorgeous and flower carpeted creeks. In a bit less than 2 hours I arrived at Finger Lake, and the start of my decision that this ‘speed ascent’ was grossly miscalculated. I move pretty good through talus, and on a dare might even race some quick people. However it is a game of attrition. At some point I mentally check out and go autopilot, foot-foot-foot on blocks regardless of their stability or size. A bit of a bad habit, and a bit slower going, but I’d rather put on headphones and drone along sometimes then try to focus on a game of hyperactive hopscotch.

Unfortunately for me, this game of try-not-to-snap-an-ankle would be the overwhelming majority of my day. Passing the awesome fjord that finger lake is I started to pick through gullys and up along ridges. Avoiding snow was not a bad idea, though my Five Ten Guide Tennies were waxed to all hell. Mostly I wanted to avoid the looser scree and sticky rubber allowed me to climb fourth and low fifth whenever possible.

Eventually I popped up to the last water source as noted in Croft’s book. The views behind as I sat and waited for my aquamira droplets were stunning.

I was always a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, I remember being rather irked when people complained about the ending of the third one. If you didn’t know the story, the movie would keep tricking you into thinking it was over. Just as some friends were reunited or a lull was hit, the screen would go black and play softer music only to then re-open onto yet another scene wrapping up some loose end. This continued for probably 45 minutes in the film, until the fake LotR fans could finally see the credits at the end of the tunnel. THAT’s how the moraine before the snowfield felt to me. I didn’t know what was ahead, and every bump I would think “oh, is THIS where I get to stop sliding all over the f*#king place? Nope. Nope another 10 minutes. Ok NOW???? DAMMIT!” To those who didn’t fully enjoy the ending to the Middle Earth saga, I sympathized before but now I empathize.

The combination of the slog, my quick elevation gain and probable insufficient hydration smacked me in the face right about the time I started to get to the glacier at the toe of the NE chutes. I’ve been prone to AMS, even getting it in the Tuolumne meadows campground, so I’m used to dealing. What was a speed ascent, turned into an ascent, and now a hobbled ascent. Well, that ain’t half bad I guess, besides look how pretty!!!

A dude at Wilson’s Eastside told me about the start of the route, and to look for a left-to-right ramp above some steep rock. I found it easily enough, so big thanks! That section was, I’d heard, the crux. However like many high sierra routes, the most difficult moves you do that day and the crux are two different things. There was some loose rock and an eerily deep ‘schrund, but class 3 would be the highest I’d give it.

Moving right past cairns got me onto the East Face proper. It’s so improbable, that this huge gully is so featured and ledge-y. To add to the enjoyment, the better rock is off to the left along a spine in between the east face and the face above the glacier. Having a good sized headache and feeling a mite bit shitty I opted to take it easy and slow right on the ridge. To make it even more awesome-sauce there were little bouquets of Sky Pilot every 5 or so yards to come across nose-first.

That’s the thing about mountains. If you poop out on a long road run, you are stuck with oil smells and drivers clipping your elbow. Up here I could just become a rock climber, or a photographer, or a tourist and just enjoy the scenery!

The route flabbergasted me with it’s length. Yes, that’s my new favorite word. It kept going… and going… and going. By staying Left I’d avoided the looser stuff, but every now and again I’d end at a section a bit blanker, or steeper, than I’d like and have to weave around it. But before too long I found the other side of the sierra, and felt wayyyyy too shitty to take a picture of it. I plodded up to the summit blocks, and too lazy to hike around and look for the ‘easy way’ I just jammed my hands in the first crack I saw that led to the summit, then turned and sat in the little saddle seat on the block itself.

10:35AM, 4:50 after leaving the car. I was pretty happy about that, all told, though I felt that maybe pushing myself so quickly on the first ~3/4 bit me in the ass. There’s a weird ennui with summits I sometimes get, where you are so happy to be ‘done with the up’ and enjoying the vistas, but soon have to deal with some more bullshit – in this case descending thousands and thousands of feet through moraine, talus and blistering trail. Wee…

At some point I willed myself to leave the summit and downclimb. I spent a good 10 seconds looking for other options before deciding to head down the handcrack I came up on. Sometimes face-in, sometimes walking, I absoutely went the easiest way possible. Looking down onto the terrain instead of up at it, I think I might have scoped out a 2nd class option on the route. Go a few dozen feet, stop, dry heave, repeat….

“one more pitch to the summit!”
“after this rappel, we just downclimb the ridge!”
“the ridge is almost over, we just have talus back to the trail!”
“This talus is going to end soon right…”

I started to play that game, where the day gets slightly easier but you get demonstrably more crapped out. By the time I finished picking my way down talus and bullshit moraines, it was a foot-in-front-of-the-other shuffle affair. The symptons have turned into full-on nausua and headache. I was hung over next to awesome lakes. Really, not too bad.

It’s like, now I’m just hiking. I just have to hike. It’s so easy it’s stupid, but it f*#king sucks. The sun is blasting on me, I can’t keep down fluids and I’m shuffling down on switchbacks I’d just earlier ran up. Arg. Well that’s why we have those zen places to go to, to think about the best quiche ever or listen to some dance music and remember that one girl at the party the other day. Something. Something other than dusty walking.

Some time later, days eons who knows, I came back to the flat sage covered trail. Very little elevation loss left, and only a handful of miles. Tried to run, head said NOPE. So… more walking. Suddenly the symptoms dropped. After going from 14k to 8k, I was back in business – even hydrated. Alright, let’s do this! So, I ran and ran and ran… for about 7 minutes. Then I saw my car.

Well, at least I could drive home feeling decent.

So, I got my ass kicked. But it was fun. Weird.

Total time 10 hours on the dot. It took me 20 minutes longer to descend than to climb the peak. One of those days….


Relaxing by First Lake last June