Virtual Tour: Mount Woodson
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…
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 first three problems in this video are on the “Practice Boulders” – aptly named.
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:
Or, consider downclimbing this wide crack on the back, which has a very low crux and can be squirmed pretty easily:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!