SoCal Road Triplet


IMG_8066 (1)Blake finishing the long, pumpy crux section of Open Book

I had business in Orange County last week so Blake flew in and we did a SocCal road “triplet” (too short to be a real road trip).  Here’s how it went down:

Thursday:
After my business meetings wrapped up I met Blake at SenderOne Climbing Gym in Santa Ana.  I’ve visited a lot of gyms across the country and the world and SenderOne is my favorite.  I travel to the LA area quite a bit so I’ve become friends with the three owners, Wes C., Wes S., and Alice.  We climbed together for a few hours, grabbed a taco dinner, then Blake and I hit the road for Joshua Tree.

Friday & Saturday:
We hadn’t been to JTree in a couple years.  It’s a great winter climbing destination and a cool little hippie town.  As Blake always says, “the hippies in Joshua Tree make the hippies in Boulder look like posers”.  The climbing at JTree tends to be old school – meaning hard for the grade and sometimes scary.  Climbers often preface ratings with the word “JTree” (e.g. “JTree 5.10″) to indicate it’s not your normal level of difficulty.  It’s always a humbling experience and this time was no exception.  Here’s our tick list:

  • Breakfast of Champions (5.8+, 2p)
  • Solid Gold (5.10a, 2p) – This may be the most sandbagged route  I’ve ever climbed.  The first pitch would be rated 5.11 at most climbing destinations and if you blow the mantle move before the last bolt you’re going to take a 35 foot whipper.
  • My Laundry (5.9, 2p)
  • Overseer (5.9)
  • Poodles are People Too (5.10b) – Punchy, super-thin crux.  I had poor footwork and took a short fall.
  • Tax Man (5.10a) – I blew the onsight last trip but it felt a lot easier this time.
  • Head Over Heals (5.10a) – Powerful bouldery crux.
  • Sail Away (5.8-)
  • Wild Wind (5.9)

IMG_8064Contemplating the crux second pitch of Open Book.
The route follows the wide crack/dihedral to the roof above.

Sunday:
Southern California is experiencing unusually warm temperatures for February so we decided to drive to nearby Idyllwild to climb at Tahquitz, a granite peak that reaches 8,846 feet of elevation.  Our objective was Open Book, the first 5.9 in the U.S.  The weather was incredible – even at altitude temps were in the high 60’s and on the sunny rock it felt even warmer.  Open Book is only 3 pitches long but it feels like a bigger route – probably because it involves a sustained, strenuous climbing and semi-hanging belays.  The crux is a 60 foot section of wide crack in a huge dihedral that most people lieback.  Between the sustained liebacking and placing gear it gets pretty pumpy.  I usually pride myself in managing gear well, but on the crux pitch I left crucial cams either at the belay or low on the route and ended up shuffling my one #4 cam a long way and still had to run it out 20+ feet to the next placement.  And I didn’t have the right gear to set a belay at the best location (past the roof) so we had an uncomfortable hanging belay below under the roof.  One of the reasons I love multi-pitch trad climbing is because of the mental challenge of managing gear.  It takes experience to be good and there’s always something to learn.

After we finished Open Book, we rapped down and did one more single pitch route, Dave’s Deviation.  By this point, after four days of climbing, our feet were pretty tender so we called it a day, grabbed dinner at our favorite restaurant in Palm Springs, and flew back to chilly Dallas the next morning.

Back for More

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Andy Hansen styling the crux pitch of the mega-classic Nightcrawler

Just returned from a long weekend at Red Rocks.  Blake and I met our friend Andy there to climb some classics.  Here’s our tick list:

Thu:

  • Big Bad Wolf
  • The Fox
  • 2 sport pitches at at Cannibal Crag

Fri: The Nightcrawler

Sat: Unimpeachable Groping

Sun: (Blake and I drove to Zion National Park to check it out and sample a couple of routes)

  • Squeeze Play
  • Tales of Flails

Mon:

  • Remote Control
  • Out of Control

24 Hours In Red Rocks

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Enjoying the spectacular view from the summit of Rose Tower after climbing Olive Oil

On November 4 Stan and I met up in Vegas for just one day of climbing.  We started at 6am and made the most of perfect weather.  We started with the classic Olive Oil and then hiked over to Brass Wall to tick Topless Twins, Mushroom People, and Straight Shooter.  Then it was back to the airport for a 5:45 flight back to Dallas.  The things we do to climb…

Hueekend at Hueco

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BJ near the top of Cakewalk – his first multi-pitch route.

My friend BJ and I made a quick weekend trip to Hueco Tanks last weekend.  Here’s the tick list:

Saturday:

  • Cakewalk
  • Uriah’s Heap
  • Sea of Holes
  • Window Pain
  • All The Nasties

Sunday:

  • Divine Wind
  • Malice in Bucketland
  • Rainbow Bridge (first pitch)
  • Lunch Rock  Direct
  • Fox Trot

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Selfie at the top of the first pitch of Rainbow Bridge – my favorite route at Hueco Tanks

My New Favorite Crag

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Pitch 1 of the Uber-Classic Corrugation Corner

Blake and I just returned from a 4-day weekend of climbing at Lover’s Leap.  Lover’s Leap is 20 minutes from Lake Tahoe, at about 6500 feet of elevation, making it one of the top summer climbing destinations in the US.  This was our first visit to the Leap and it didn’t disappoint.  In fact, the combination of stellar climbing, easy access/approach, great weather, and idyllic setting may make Lover’s Leap my new favorite destination for summer cragging.

Because this was our first visit, we decided to focus on the classics — and we ticked a bunch of them (29 total pitches of climbing in 3.5 days).  We had been warned that Lover’s Leap is crowded in summer and it’s not unusual to wait in line to climb a classic route.  However, we had no problem with crowds and had the entire crag to ourselves much of the time.  We also lucked into a great little cabin right next to a river, which was perfect for cooling off after a long day of climbing.

Here’s our tick list:

Thursday:

  • Haystack, 5.8 (3p)
  • Bear’s Reach, 5.7 (3p) – Maybe the best 5.7 I’ve done anywhere!
  • The Line 5.9 (3p) – Stellar! We linked P2 and P3.

Friday:

  • Surrealistic Pillar, 5.7 (3p) – I didn’t think it was as great as advertised.
  • Hospital Corner, 5.10a (2p) – The second pitch is probably the best single pitch we did at Lover’s Leap.
  • Tombstone Terror, 5.10c (1p) – Hard and sustained!  If you told me it was 5.11 I wouldn’t disagree.
  • Boothill, 5.11 sport – Powerful AND technical.  Maybe the best sport climb I’ve ever climbed!
  • The Groove, 5.8 – Meh.

Saturday:

  • Corrugation Corner, 5.7 (3p) – Lives up to the hype.
  • Scimitar, 5.9 (3p) – Fantastic, varied climbing.  One of my favorites of the trip.
  • Surrealistic Pillar Direct, 5.10b (1p) – Great line.  We also did the left variation.

Sunday:

  • Traveler Buttress, 5.9 (4p) – This route is one of the “50 Classic Climbs of North America” but I don’t think it’s that great by today’s standards.  The offwidth section on P2 is heinous.

 

48 Hours in Moab

ImageLowering down the splitter thin hand crack on Pente, Indian Creek

One of the (few) benefits of traveling frequently for business is that I accumulate lots of airline miles.  And the great thing about airline miles is that you can use them for last minute flights that would otherwise be very expensive.  Last week our realtor suggested that we vacate our house (which recently went on the market) over the weekend for an open house and showings.  Megan had a tennis tournament and the kids went to grandma’s so you can probably guess what came to my mind.  I checked the forecast at a few climbing hotspots and decided on Moab.

I flew in to Salt Lake City Friday evening and drove 4 endless hours across barren desert to Moab.  This was a solo trip, so I had arranged for a climbing guide for the weekend.  When you have limited time and aren’t familiar with an area it’s nice to hire a local.  It’s also an opportunity to climb harder routes than I normally would.  And I had a very specific route in mind:  Fine Jade (5.11a, 5 pitches).  Fine Jade follows a gorgeous crack system on the southern prow of The Rectory, facing Castleton Tower.  The route is considered by many to be one of the very best climbs in the desert.

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Approaching The Rectory, Castle Valley, Utah

Saturday
The climbing season in the desert southwest is rapidly coming to an end and the forecast for the weekend called for highs in the upper 80’s.  So we got an early start on Saturday and were able to do the short but steep approach hike – and the majority of the route – in the shade.  I can’t say enough about the quality of Fine Jade.  Every pitch is great.  I don’t get to do much pure crack climbing so it felt difficult – especially since the strenuous crux comes low on the very first pitch.  If you want the blow-by-blow, here’s my GoPro video of the first pitch that includes a fall (at the 2:50 mark) after botching the crux sequence of moves.  Fine Jade definitely goes on my top 5 list of all-time favorites.  I want to go back and lead it soon.

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Summit of The Rectory via Fine Jade

Sunday
To become an expert trad climber you have to master crack climbing.  Cracks come in a wide range of sizes – tips, fingers, off-fingers, thin hands, hands, off-hands, fist, offwidth, squeeze chimney, and chimney – and each requires different technique.  If you want to hone your technique, the very best place in the world to go is Indian Creek, about an hour south of Moab.  It’s a crack climbing mecca with literally thousands of clean-cut cracks of all sizes.

I had never been to Indian Creek, so I was excited to check the area out.  Living in Fort Worth, most of my climbing happens in a gym where it’s nearly impossible to practice crack climbing.  So I was curious to see how I would fare at Indian Creek.

We visited Reservoir Wall, one of the better shaded crags at Indian Creek and did a handful of routes.   The highlight was Pente (5.11-), widely considered one of the area’s best routes.  Because I was with a guide I followed Pente but it felt pretty casual so I’m confident that I could lead it.  In fact, I felt pretty solid on all of the routes we did (mostly 5.10s).  I’ll definitely be going back to Indian Creek when the temperatures cool this fall.  And I might even build a crack machine for my man cave to train at home…

Inti Watana

The spring climbing season in the desert southwest is coming to an end, so Blake and I flew to Vegas last week for a few more days on the rock.  These days I consider Red Rocks my “home crag” since it’s almost as easy to fly there (usually with frequent flyer miles) as it is to drive to the (far inferior) Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma.

Our primary objective for this trip was a route called Inti Watana (5.10+, 12 pitches), a 1500 foot route on the steep north face of Mount Wilson (which, at 7070′, is the tallest peak at Red Rocks).  Here’s how it played out:

Wednesday
We flew to Vegas early and headed straight to the crags to climb Adventure Punks (5.10d, 5 pitches), one of Red Rocks’ “rediscovered classics” .  We had visited this route last year, but I backed off the first pitch due to a dangerous runout.  This year I returned with specialized gear (a #1 ball nut) to protect the runout start.  Even with this gear, the consequences of a fall in the wrong place would be very severe.

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A #1 (blue) ball nut deep in a shallow hueco 10 feet off the deck is all the protection you get for the first 25+ feet of 5.10 climbing on Adventure Punks.  You can see the flake high above that offers the first real protection.

It was a spooky lead and it set the tone for the pitches to follow.  We got a late start and only did the first 3 pitches but they all had a bold, adventurous feel to them.

Thursday
Inti Watana has been on our tick list for a long time.  It’s a big route with a long, steep approach so we got up at 5am and were hiking less than an hour later.  I had stopped in Vegas the previous week on my way back from California to preview the approach with my friend Stan so I knew exactly where to go.  However, in my pre-dawn mental haze I parked at the wrong pullout and didn’t realize it until we had hiked the wrong trail for 15 minutes.  It didn’t turn out to be a big deal – since I had scoped the area a few days earlier I was able to correct the mistake, adding only about 10 minutes to our hike.  The approach involves a lot of 4th class scrambling and took us exactly 90 minutes – not bad considering that we were carrying full packs and did some “bonus” hiking.

The 5.10c crux of the route is on the second pitch and involves awkward semi-liebacking with poor feet.  Much of the route is protected by bolts but you need a light rack (single cams to 2 inches) to protect non-bolted sections.

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Pitch 7, the “S crack”, about halfway up Inti Watana

The weather was perfect and the pitches fell quickly so we finished the route in 5 hours, linking pitches 9/10 and 11/12.  Many multi-pitch routes feel like they’re pushing you down, guarding the summit, but Inti Watana seems to pull you up higher and higher.  The only downside was the lack of comfy belay ledges.  There are only two good ledges on the whole route so our feet were pretty beat up by the time we reached the top.  The route tops out on a pinnacle a few pitches below the true summit of Mount Wilson.  You can either continue up Resolution Arete and hike down the back of Mount Wilson (adding maybe 5 hours to an already long day) or rap down Inti Watana, which we did.  We rapped down in about an hour with two 60m ropes, linking 12/11, 10/9, 6/5, 4/3, and 2/1.  We ate a leisurely lunch at the bottom, hiked down, and were back at the car at 3:30pm for a car-to-car time of just under 10 hours (9.5 if you don’t count the parking error).  Inti Watana was a really fun route.  I wouldn’t say that the climbing itself is 5 star but the overall experience certainly is.  Highly recommended!

Friday
We expected to be pretty tired from the previous day’s effort, so we didn’t have any specific plans for Friday.  However, we woke up early and felt OK, so we headed to Black Velvet Canyon intending to do Triassic Sands, one of my all-time favorite routes.  However, one of the 4 climbing teams in the canyon was already headed there so we decided to do Wholesome Fullback (5.10a, 2 pitches) instead.  I had done this route before in 2008 and remembered that it was hard for the grade.  The overwhelming consensus on Mountain Project is that the crux move is significantly harder than 10a and I agree.  It felt more like 10c to me.  After finishing the route we top-roped the stellar third pitch of Our Father, a route that I want to come back and lead next year.

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Finishing the opening thin fingers crux on Wholesome Fullback

Temperatures at Red Rocks are beginning to top 90 degrees – a little warm for multi-pitch.  That means it’s time to move on to higher latitudes and higher altitudes.  Next stop – Eldorado Canyon…

Red Rocks Delivers

HoldemBlake on the first pitch of Texas Hold’em, Black Velvet Wall

Just returned from a long weekend of climbing at Red Rocks.  As my climbing partner Blake says, “Red Rocks always delivers”, and this time was no exception.  We’ve done many of the 5 star routes at Red Rocks so we’re starting to climb off the beaten path a bit.

Here’s our tick list:

Thursday
We flew to Vegas early, grabbed lunch at our favorite cafe, and headed to the cliffs for a little afternoon cragging…

solarPsyched x 3.  Me, Blake, and Andy at the top of Solar Flare.

Friday
We hooked up with our friend Andy and hiked into Oak Creek Canyon.  This was my first time to climb as a party of 3 where the leader brings both followers up at the same time using a Petzl Reverso.  I’m normally not a fan of 3-man rope teams but this system worked really well and was only about 20% slower than climbing as a party of 2.  You have to bring two ropes anyway for many routes at Red Rocks (for rappels), so why not use them for a third climber?

  • Solar Flare (5.10, 5p) – An OK route – wouldn’t do it again.
  • Beulah’s Book (5.9, 3p) – We did the first two pitches.  The second pitch is one of the best of its grade at Red Rocks!
  • Red Zinger  (5.10+, 2p) – Pure “Indian Creek style” crack climbing – it felt hard and sustained!  We only did the first pitch because we were getting tired and the overhanging thin hands second pitch looked a little intimidating.

photo 2 (2)The stellar second pitch of Beulah’s Book

photo 1 (1)Leading Red Zinger

Saturday
Each time we visit Red Rocks we like to spend at least one day in Black Velvet Canyon.  The canyon’s namesake wall is the crown jewel of the area.  At over 2000 feet tall, Black Velvet Wall has perhaps the highest concentration of high quality (and mostly moderate) multipitch trad routes in the world.  Andy had recommended a route called Texas Hold’Em, which checks in at 5.11c over 9 pitches.  However, the first 6 pitches can be climbed at a more manageable (but still challenging) 5.10d rating.  Black Velvet Wall is huge and intimidating, and this route had a pretty serious feel to it.  Every pitch – even the ones with easier ratings – has something to keep your attention.  No gimmes!

The crux pitch was long and sustained, beginning with an overhanging 10d fist crack followed by 150 feet of  sustained 5.10 face and thin crack.  I was psyched to get the onsight – and also exhausted both mentally and physically.  After rapping down we realized that we were the only people in Black Velvet Canyon – very unusual for a Saturday in April.  We enjoyed the quiet hour-long hike back to the car (and also the mountain of sushi we ate later).

photo 3 (1)Looking back at Black Velvet Wall on the hike out.  Beautiful and quiet.

Sunday
With a flight to catch in the afternoon, we needed an objective with a relatively short approach and a quick descent.  We have had our eye on the “new Red Rocks classic” route La Cierta Edad (5.10d, 5p) for a while so we decided to give it a go.  It was fantastic – the pitches were varied (runout face, thin crack, wide crack, chimney, etc.) and each was challenging in its own way.  The 5.9+ chimney on the second pitch gave me fits (chimneys are my weakness – Blake cruised it) but the 10d offwidth felt surprisingly easy.  Our favorite pitch was the 3rd, with a sustained 10a off-fist crack and lots of stemming.  We moved quickly and were back at the car before 1pm.

photo 5 (1)La Cierta Edad, P3

photo 4 (1)Hanging belay selfie on La Cierta Edad

Another great trip – Red Rocks always delivers.  Time to heal up and plan the next one…

 

The Weather Window

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Sending Potato Chips, Kraft Boulders

For most of the country this has been a harsh winter.  Even in Texas we’ve had unusually cold temperatures and lots of ice.  When skies are grey I (somewhat obsessively) monitor the weather at my favorite climbing destinations, looking opportunities to escape to warmer temps.   Last weekend I saw a window of good weather at Red Rocks, so I gave Blake a ring and we decided to go for it.  Through the miracle of frequent flyer miles we were able to book flights and hotels at the last minute at zero cost.  And it paid off – we climbed in t-shirts and shorts while Fort Worth suffered through yet another ice storm.

Here’s our tick list:

Saturday
We flew in Saturday morning and went directly to Brass Wall to do some short warmup climbs:

Sunday
We’ve done most of the classic moderate routes at Red Rocks so we were looking for something a bit off the  beaten path.  We decided to try Orange Clonus, a 5-6 pitch 5.10d on Straight Shooter wall.  It ended up being more than we bargained for!  Both the first pitch and the crux 5th pitch felt quite a bit harder than 5.10d (and lots of people on Mountain Project agree).  After a few attempts at the crux thin hands corner (which for me was off-fingers with slick feet) I got frustrated and we bailed near the top of the route.  The descent was pretty involved due to the wandering nature of the route.  We ended up rapping a pitch, down-climbing two easy pitches, then rapping into a gully.  If you climb enough it’s inevitable that you’ll have “adventures” like that so you just roll with it.  To regain our confidence we climbed the classic finger crack Straight Shooter before hiking out of Pine Creek Canyon.

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Blake styling Panty Raid, a steep, crimpy 5.10 line on Panty Wall

Monday
We had a flight to catch in the afternoon, so we went to Calico Basin and climbed Classic Crack of Calico, a wonderful 3 pitch 5.9+ on Kraft Mountain.  I can’t say enough good things about this route.  The third pitch may be the best 5.8/5.9 pitch I’ve done at Red Rocks.  After summiting and hiking down, I did a quick lap on the classic V2 Potato Chips at the Kraft Boulders just so I could say I did a boulder problem on this trip.

When we got back to the car, we had messages from American Airlines – our flights to Dallas later that afternoon had been cancelled due to icy conditions.  It seemed crazy since we were getting sunburned in Vegas.  Needless to say, we were NOT upset.  We went back to town to grab lunch and then headed to Panty Wall in the Calico Hills to bang out a few more routes:

With the forecast calling for continued sun and warm temps we were sort of hoping for another cancelled flight on Tuesday.  But all good things must come to an end…

Chilly Hueco

Bundled up on the Hueco mega-classic Nobody Here Gets Out Alive

Blake and I made a quick weekend trip to Hueco Tanks right after Christmas.  Located in the Texas desert, Hueco is one of the best winter climbing destinations in the U.S.  However, it’s still a dice roll – I’ve climbed in a t-shirt in January and I’ve also climbed with temps in the teens.  This trip was on the chilly side, with morning temps in the 30’s and afternoon highs in the high 40’s or low 50’s.  35 degrees in the shade on cold rock can be pretty tough – especially if the wind is blowing.  However, we managed to get plenty of climbing done.  Here’s our tick list:

Friday:

  • Uriah’s Heap (5.8, 2p)
  • Hueco Syndrome (5.10, 2p)
  • Malice in Bucketland (5.9)
  • All the Nasties (5.10)
  • Window Pain (5.10)

Saturday:

  • Head Fox (5.9+)
  • Fox Trot (5.10+)
  • Indecent Exposure (5.9+, 2p)
  • Alice in Banana Land (5.10-)

Sunday:

The weather was overcast, colder, and windy so we decided to skip roped climbing and boulder/explore on North Mountain.  I did a couple of laps on Nobody Here Gets Out Alive, which is considered one of the best V2 problems in the world.  I also worked Lobster Claw, a V5 problem that has eluded me for a while.  I came very close to sending but was tired from the previous two days.

All in all, a fun trip but I’m looking forward to spring weather!