This is what the next level feels like


Never-ending slabs on the approach to Rainbow Wall.
The Original Route is the obvious corner splitting the middle of the wall.

As a climber living far from rock with a demanding job and young family, my outdoor climbing days are precious.  I’m usually limited to a quick weekend “business trips” — fly to a crag (usually Red Rocks), climb as much as possible, fly home.  Between lots of gym sessions and 10-12 short trips a year I’ve been able to steadily move through the grades.  Typically I select climbing objectives that are near, but not quite at, my limit in order to maximize chances for success.  However, every once in a while you need to jump into the deep end to reach the next level.  With this in mind, I met my friend Andy in Vegas last weekend for a quick tune-up before our mid-October trip to Yosemite (my first full week climbing trip since my first daughter was born 11 years ago).

We picked The Original Route on Rainbow Wall as our primary objective for the weekend.  It was a monster objective for someone who hadn’t touched real rock or even hiked with a pack in weeks.  However, after success on Levitation 29 and Cloud Tower earlier in the year, I have started to gain confidence at the higher grades.

The Original Route (or “O.G.” as we call it) is considered by many to be Red Rocks’ finest route.  It checks in at 13 pitches, with two pitches of 5.12 pitches, five at 5.11 , three at 5.10, and 3 at 5.9 or easier.  It’s the most continuously hard route I’ve attempted and for added fun the route is guarded by a burly approach that gains 2000 vertical feet.We started hiking around 6:45am and made good progress, arriving at the base of the route 90 minutes later.  The O.G. doesn’t see as much traffic as other Red Rocks mega-classics because of its length and difficulty but as luck (or lack thereof) would have it, a party of Swiss climbers was getting started on the 5.11c first pitch variation just as we arrived.  Many parties climb this variation to avoid the original direct start which involves 5.12 climbing right off the deck.  The Swiss team was planning to do the route in two days and was hauling a “pig“.  Since we intended to climb the route in one day they invited us to pass them but that would mean we’d use the original start.  Luckily that didn’t seem to phase Andy and by the time I had caught my breath from the approach hike he was racked up and ready to go.  Andy and I had agreed to lead in blocks of 2 pitches and as the stronger climber it made sense for him to take the hardest block.  He moved quickly through the first pitch and I followed, wearing a small pack containing water, food, jackets, and a few other odds and ends.  The pack weighed about 15 pounds and on an easier route it wouldn’t have been a problem to follow while wearing it.  However, on a 5.12 pitch the extra weight was a showstopper.  After a couple of falls I finished the pitch but was absolutely throttled.  One pitch down, only 12 to go… gulp.

The next pitch — one of the best on the route — isn’t much easier at 5.11d.  Again I followed wearing the pack, and again I got my a$$ handed to me.  Midway through the pitch my calves and butt started cramping.  I fought through it and finished the pitch. Only two pitches in and I was already spent.  And it was my turn to lead…


Bringing Andy up at the handing belay just above the finishing roof on P5

With great joy I handed the evil backpack to Andy and cast off on the next pitch, which at 5.11a felt like a break in the action.  It’s all relative I guess.  Without the pack I felt buoyant and caught a second wind.  I finished the pitch and the following pitch of 5.11b quickly and Andy did the same for the next two pitches of 5.10 climbing.  From here the route continues through 4 pitches of easy climbing before the second crux 5.12 pitch.  However, neither Andy nor I was very psyched to finish the route.  After 7 pitches we had gotten a good taste of Rainbow Wall and decided to descend and check out the alternate first pitch that we had missed and also work the 5.12 start for a future ascent.  Honestly if we had been able to do the much easier alternate start AND if I hadn’t tried to climb the first two pitches wearing the pack I would have been much more motivated to finish the route.  But I had fired all of my bullets low on the route and having come “off the couch” the day before I felt like I needed more fitness to finish it in a style I’d be satisfied with (i.e. no falls).

Ironically, after rappelling to the base and eating lunch I felt stronger than I had all day.  I led the 5.11c alternate start and it felt almost easy.  Then I toproped the 5.12b original start twice with no falls.  All in all it added up to about 9 pitches of hard climbing plus close to 3 hours of steep hiking — a big day by any standard.

Even though we didn’t top out on the route, this was a meaningful ascent for me because I now know what the next level feels like.  And I feel like it’s well within my reach.  There’s a saying in bike racing that goes, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”  I’ve learned over time that this also applies to climbing.  It never gets easier, you just climb harder.


The Bucket List


The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.
– Alex Lowe

When I started climbing 17 years ago my long term goal was to become a competent 5.10 trad leader (which to me meant that I could onsite almost any 5.10 route on gear regardless of style).  This may not sound super ambitious, but keep in mind:

  1. It’s easier said than done when you live hundreds of miles from rock and have a family and demanding career.
  2. There are some really hard 5.10d/5.10+ routes out there!

I slowly worked my way up the ranks and just a couple years ago I decided that I had reached my goal.  But of course that’s only the beginning – I already had my eye on bigger, harder objectives.  Some of the most sought after multi-pitch rock routes are in the 5.11/5.12 range – almost within reach.   I began to build a mental “bucket list”:

Levitation 29, Red Rocks, NV

Cloud Tower, Red Rock Canyon, NV

Drifting, Red Rock Canyon, NV

The Original Route on Rainbow Wall, Red Rock Canyon, NV

The Naked Edge, Eldorado Canyon, CO

Pervertical Sanctuary, Long’s Peak, CO

The North Face of The Rostrum, Yosemite Valley, CA

I’m not getting any younger and these routes aren’t getting any easier, so it’s time to start ticking them off.  With that in mind, I recently met my friend Andy in Las Vegas with plans to attempt to attempt two or three of these bucket list routes.  I’m pretty strict with style and ethics so I don’t consider a route completed unless I’ve led my fair share of pitches (and ideally the crux pitch) with no takes or falls.  Realistically a fall or two is acceptable and inevitable on some of these routes and that’s OK but no hangdogging and no pulling on gear.

Here’s how the trip went down…


Andy leading the splitter crux pitch of Bloodline.

Day 1:
We were greeted in Vegas by cool temps and nuclear winds so we had to change our plans for the first couple days and stay low in an attempt to escape 40+ mph gusts. This gave us the opportunity to explore some lesser known, shorter routes.


Andy nears the top of P1 of Bloodline – a rope-stretcher with demanding and spicy climbing.

Day 2:
More wind, more cragging…


Andy casts off on throught-provoking first pitch of Levitation 29.

Day 3:
Good weather at last!  I had dialed in the “fast 5th class” approach to Levitation 29 on a previous trip (see my comment with beta here) so we charged the approach, making it from the parking lot to the base of the route in 80 minutes.  The route lived up to the hype and I was psyched to get the crux pitch onsite.  Cross one off the bucket list!


Looking down the crux pitch of Levitation 29 – my first bucket list route.

Day 4:
Because I have a full time job and a family most of my climbing trips are long weekend “business trips” – fly in, git’er done, fly out.  On this trip, however, we had a planned rest day – and it was luxurious.  We grabbed a huge breakfast at Baby Cakes. I went for a leisurely hike around Kraft Mountain, took a nap, caught up on email, and ran some errands.  Our friend Kevin (another Kevin) flew in late that night to join us for the next day’s objective…


My favorite pic from the trip.  Sleep deprivation and a nasty head cold can’t keep the smile off of Kevin’s face as he floats the dreamy fourth pitch of Cloud Tower.

Day 5:
Cloud Tower – it’s considered one of the best free climbs of its grade in the country.  No arguments here!  This turned out to be one of those magical days where everything clicked – splitter weather, great conversation, and incredible climbing.  Every pitch is mega-classic – especially P4 and P6 (per Mountain Project).  The 5.12- P3, which Andy led, is desperate – especially if you have sausage fingers like me.  I took a fall on that pitch and another fall (due to lazy/sloppy footwork) on P6.  But overall I was happy with my climbing – I feel like I’m very close to being able to lead all of the pitches.  Another bucket list climb off the list!


Shuffling through the birth canal on P5 – a short but fun pitch.

This trip opened my eyes to new possibilities.  I’m back in Texas training and setting my sights on the next one…

More Solo Shenanigans


Can you say SPLITTER?  Looking up at The Schwa.

Last month I made a quick weekend trip to Red Rocks.  Blake was supposed to join me but injured his back right before the trip and I couldn’t find a replacement partner at the last minute.  So I went solo…

I prefer to have a partner, but I do enjoy hiking and climbing solo (toprope) every once in a while. I’ll never be the strongest climber but within this little (meaningless) sub-discipline that combines orienteering, technical skills, and lots of decision-making and problem solving I like to think I’m pretty good.

I keep a running mental list of climbing objectives so when I found out I’d be solo on this trip a couple of specific objectives popped into my mind:

  • A toprope solo of The Nightcrawler from the top of Brownstone wall.  The Nightcrawler is widely considered one of the best 5.10 routes at Red Rocks.  I’ve done it several times and thought it would be fun to try solo.
  • The Schwa.  I’ve got a list of about 15 of Red Rocks’ best pure crack climbs that I’m slowly working through.  Most of them can’t be solo TR’d because you can’t reach the top without technical climbing but after studying some pictures of The Schwa it looked like it might be possible to rap into route from above — probably with some “shenanigans” involved.

With those objectives in mind, here’s how the trip played out…

Day 1:  The Nightcrawler

The approach to the base of Brownstone Wall is pretty tough, with about 1700 vertical feet of steep hiking.  But I was going to the TOP of the wall via Gunsight Notch, which adds another 600 vertical feet.  Plus, because I was solo my pack was extra heavy with two ropes, gear, water, etc.  And let’s not forget lots of snow and ice from a recent arctic blast.  Let’s just call it “good training”.


Good times on the approach.  A fixed rope in the gully leading up to Gunsight Notch.

Often the biggest challenge in multi-pitch solo TR climbing is finding the top of the route.  Mountainous terrain always looks very different from below or at a distance than it does from the top when you’re right there.  Usually I try to identify a major rock feature that I can locate once on top.  Luckily I found a great photo on Mountain Project (probably taken from Cloud Tower) and identified a huge flake/chimney directly above the distinctive hourglass formation that Nightcrawler ascends.  I noted the feature with a circle on the photo below.


The pic I used to locate the top of The Nightcrawler

The approach was tough but the view from the top of Brownstone is mind-blowing – one of the best at Red Rocks.  It wasn’t too hard to find the big flake feature from the photo and as luck would have it I stumbled into a new-ish rappel anchor a few feet to climber’s left.  This meant I wouldn’t have to leave any gear behind!  I set up a double rope rappel and started lowering, keeping my eyes peeled for the familiar ledge at the top of the hourglass formation.  I found it pretty quickly but it was a full rope length (60m / 200 feet) to the anchor at the top of P4 of The Nightcrawler.  I had meant to rappel to the top of P5 but that anchor was about 40 feet to my right so I skipped it.  From here is was pretty straightforward – anchor the rope, rappel, set up TR solo, climb, rappel and then repeat for the next pitch.


Below the incredible fourth pitch of The Nightcrawler

The climbing went smoothly and soon I was at the base of Brownstone.  The hike down is much faster and I made it back to the car at 1:30pm – 6.5 hours car-to-car.

Day 2: The Schwa

I knew from studying pictures of The Schwa that it would be:  a) hard to find a way to get to the top of the route; and b) way, way more hiking than it’s worth to climb what amounts to 100 feet of climbing.  I thought it would be an interesting challenge and it ended up being even more than I bargained for.  The route is located pretty high above the desert floor and I had to traverse across the mountain well above the top of the route.  I ended up hiking/scrambling almost 1000 vertical feet with plenty of shenanigans along the way.  Eventually I located the top of the route, built an anchor with old “booty” gear, and rapped to a ledge at the top of The Schwa.


Standing on the diving board halfway up the money pitch on The Schwa

The route is really good – it starts with a steep finger crack that slowly widens to hands, then fists, then offwidth.  There’s a diving board rest stop halfway up which eases the overall difficulty quite a bit.  The route is rated 5.10d but I found it quite a bit easier than The Fox, which is also 5.10d and has a similar style.  I climbed the route twice then rapped down and hiked out.  I wouldn’t TR solo this route again or recommend that anyone else do it – it’s way too much work for too little climbing.

After hiking out and grabbing a quick lunch I headed over to The Fox, which by comparison is super easy to rig.  A couple laps there finished me off for the day.

Day 3: Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride

I decided to fly back home the evening of day 3 (I can only take so much time alone!) so I  decided to keep it “easy” that morning and check out some sport routes on the back side of Kraft Mountain.  My objective was Mr. Choad’s Wild Ride, a super-classic 5.11b, but I had no idea if I’d be able to reach to the top to set up a TR.  It turns out that you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) reach the anchors at the top but I’m stubborn and with quite a few shenanigans was able to get there.  I climbed Mr. Choad and the route next to it, Cirque de Soleil (also good).  On the hike out I ran into some boulderers working Pork Chop, a gorgeous V2/V3 arete problem and I did a lap to finish off a fun day.

P.S.  Whenever I post about solo toproping I always get questions about my setup.  Here is some detail on my tried-and-true setup:

And here’s a couple more posts on multi-pitch solo TR:

Hueco Solo

A couple years ago I started solo toproping as a way to climb outside when I don’t have a partner.  I travel a lot for business and it’s a great way to squeeze in a day of climbing here and there.  I’ve even done some multipitch routes solo.  I still like climbing with a partner better, but climbing solo is rewarding in its own way.

This week I was able to visit Hueco Tanks, just outside of El Paso, for a day.  I’ve always thought Hueco would be a great place to climb solo because the top of the mountain is easy to access (when solo toproping you start from the top) and many routes have bolted rappel stations.  My goals for the day were: a) To climb a lot of vertical feet; and b) To check out some routes I haven’t climbed before.

I ended up having a great day despite sustained 40-50mph winds on the summit of North Mountain.  I did about 11 pitches and 1300 feet of 5.10 or harder climbing – much of it while carrying a second rope – plus a lot of hiking and rappeling.  As the video above shows, I used two 60M ropes so that I could string them from the top of North Mountain to the bottom and climb continuously for 300 feet.  Here’s how it worked:

  1. Find the top of the route (usually the hardest part)
  2. Set up a rappel anchor using gear
  3. Rappel down on one rope to a mid-mountain rappel anchor (most routes at Hueco are 2 or 3 pitches)
  4. Set up the second rope (to the ground)
  5. Rappel to the ground
  6. Set up my toprope solo devices
  7. Climb the first pitch on the bottom rope
  8. Switch to the other rope and either trail the bottom rope or coil it and carry on my back
  9. Climb the second pitch to the top
  10. Move to the next route

The only snag came when I was rappeling a route on Indecent Exposure Buttress and spotted a large hive of angry bees directly in my path.  Earlier this year a guy almost died on a nearby route after getting stung 300+ times so I stopped rappeling and climbed back to the top with urgency!

Here are the routes I climbed:

  • Window Pain + P2 of Lunacy
  • Purple Microdot – A great route that I’ve wanted to climb for a long time but haven’t because of the R rating.  Turns out that the protection isn’t bad.
  • Amplified Apples – This was my main objective but I had to cut it short due to bees.
  • Sea of Holes (P2 only)
  • Hueco Syndrome
  • All The Nasties + Brain Dead


Tahquitz & Suicide Sampler

FullSizeRender 5

Life is good.  Enjoying perfect weather and a view of Tahquitz after a hard day of climbing.

I had meetings in California this week so I flew in over the weekend for a couple days of climbing at Tahquitz and Suicide Rock.  Tahquitz and Suicide are granite crags that sit across a valley from each other near the town of Idyllwild.  It’s a pretty amazing place – less than an hour drive and 8,000 feet above Palm Springs, the Idyllwild area is a lush alpine forest with temperatures that are often 30+ degrees cooler than the desert below.

As luck would have it, my friend Nick’s parents just bought a cabin at the base of Tahquitz – a perfect base camp for climbing.  We climbed lots of classic routes but it was a bit humbling for me.  The style of climbing is different from what I’ve done recently and the crux moves on the routes we did tended to be awkward and burly – making them hard to onsight.  That’s one of the things I love about rock climbing – there’s always something to learn.

FullSizeRender 4Nick tops out on the stellar second pitch of Super Pooper

Here’s our tick list:

DAY 1 – Suicide Rock

  • Flower of High Rank – Probably the best route of its grade at Suicide (and Tahquitz?).
  • Miscalculation
  • Sundance (3p) – Fun, varied climbing and a little spicy.
  • The Frustration to Aqualung (2p)
  • Insomnia – 5 stars and hard!  We toproped it.

DAY 2 – Tahquitz

  • Stand Up Flake to Super Pooper (4p) – Great route with a hard crux sequence (sandbagged at 5.10a).
  • Lik’en to Lichen – An old, seldom-climbed route that Nick wanted to check out.  Zero stars :(
  • My Pink Half of the Drainpipe – Wow, great route with really unusual interesting movement.
  • Last Grapes


Triassic Sands Solo Toprope

FullSizeRender (2)Time to climb!  All set to (safely) solo the stellar fourth pitch of Triassic Sands.

A couple years ago I started using a toprope solo setup.  It’s a great way to climb a lot of vertical feet quickly for training or when you don’t have a partner.  Ever since then I’ve wanted to to solo toprope a multipitch route.  This week I made a swing through Vegas on a business trip so this was my chance.  Triassic Sands seemed like the perfect route for a solo adventure – the summit of Whiskey Peak is a pretty short hike, the route follows a straight line, and it has bolted belays.  For obvious reasons climbing alone shouldn’t be taken lightly.  However, I have climbed Triassic Sands several times and know the area very well.  Also, for added safety I bought a DeLorme inReach Explorer.  The Explorer is a satellite communicator that allows you to send and receive text messages and SOS signals from literally anywhere in the world using the Iridium satellite network.  It has GPS to track your movement and publishes it to the web in real time so friends can follow your progress.  Also, it connects to your phone via bluetooth which is great because you can just clip the Explorer to your pack and use the app (which has a much better user interface) to do everything.

When I set out this morning I knew that the biggest challenge would be finding the start of the route.  The best pitches (the first four) end 200+ feet of “fourth and easy fifth class” (according to the guidebook) below the summit.  On the hike into Black Velvet Canyon I spent some time scoping out the summit to identify features that I might be able to find from the top.  However, things always look very different from the top. After scrambling around a bit I knew I was in the general vicinity of the route so I scrambled down until I reached 5th class terrain and built an anchor by slinging a large block with webbing.  All said it took me a little over an hour to hike to the top of Whiskey Peak, scramble around to get the lay of the land, and set up a rappel.

I did a single rope rap (100 feet) and still couldn’t see the route, but it felt like I was headed in the right direction (I found one of the rock features I had scoped from below) so I pulled the rope (knowing that I could solo the 5.easy terrain above if I couldn’t find the route), slung another block with cord (and backed it up with a jammed knot), and set up a double rope rap.  125 feet down and slightly climber’s right I found the familiar bolted anchor at the top of P4 of Triassic Sands.  Score!

Once I reached familiar terrain I moved really quickly, rappelling, climbing, and re-rappelling all 4 pitches (I actually climbed it in 3 pitches) in about 90 minutes.  As many of you know, Triassic Sands is an incredible route – every pitch is 5 star!

After reaching the ground I realized I was out of water, so I pulled, the ropes, packed up, and hiked out.  My total car-to-car time was a little under 5 hours – including quite a bit of time at the top determining where to start and at the bottom chatting with a couple of Kiwis climbing Ixtlan.  If I did the route again and moved with purpose I’m pretty sure I could go car-to-car in under 4 hours.

I still prefer to climb with a partner (because I love lead climbing) but I have to say that this was a lot of fun.  Climbing solo feels more serious but it was satisfying to utilize all of the skills I’ve picked up over many years of climbing.

For folks that want to solo TR Triassic Sands, here’s some additional beta that might be useful:

1) In my opinion the pitches above the standard finish (P4) aren’t worth climbing so just do the two raps to get to the P4 anchor.

2) The location I chose for the first rap turned out to be directly above the route.  Here are the GPS coordinates:  N 36°2.0845′ W 115°27.7991′.  Below is a pic taken from the rap anchor I built (a block slung with a new piece of red webbing and a locking biner). For reference you can see the summit of Whiskey Peak (and the finish of Frogland) on the left side of the pic.  I rapped 100 feet with a single rope from here and built another rap anchor.


3) As you hike in to the canyon, spot Triassic Sands and follow it to the top of the formation.  I found it useful to identify the distinctive “scoop” feature circled in the photo below.  As luck would have it, this feature ended up being where the first rappel ends and the second rappel begins!


Blown Away at Red Rocks

IMG_8309Our view for much of the weekend – clouds, wind, and rain…

One of the many reasons that Red Rocks is my favorite climbing destination is the desert climate, which means predictable, usually splitter, weather.  But every rule has its exception and this weekend Blake and I faced high winds and scattered rain – a little slice of Patagonia in Nevada.  But we made the best of it and managed to get plenty of climbing done.  Here’s how it played out:

FullSizeRender (1)Blake sinks his big mits into bomber jams on The Misunderstanding

We flew to Vegas early, grabbed a quick breakfast at Whole Foods, and headed straight to Black Velvet Canyon for some cragging.  It rained off and on the whole day, but we managed to knock out a few routes:

  • The Misunderstanding (5.9, 2 pitches)
  • Wholesome Fullback (5.10a, 3 pitches) – We did the route as one monster (200+ foot) pitch plus a short 20 foot chimney scramble to the top of the pillar.  Just as we finished, the wind went nuclear.  On the first rappel I tossed the rope down and an updraft blew it straight up over our heads.  I’ve read about this happening but this is the first time I’ve seen it.
  • Tales from the Gripped (5.11b, 3 pitches) –  On a tip from a local, we checked out the 5.11 first pitch, which is technical and bold.  I backed off and lowered near the top – I wasn’t psyched to pull hard, committing moves way above my protection.

We awoke to clear skies but high winds.  Our objective for the day was the mega-classic Dream of Wild Turkeys, but another party beat us to the base.  They were moving really slowly so we decided to move a few hundred feet to the right and climb Sour Mash instead.  By linking pitches we were able to do the route in four rope-stretching pitches.  We climbed and rappelled really quickly and were back at the base by about 11am (!).  After a leisurely lunch we climbed one more bonus pitch – a route called Spark Plug which looks awesome but only climbs so-so.

friarThe Friar ascends the south face of the buttress/pinnacle and finishes atop a huge, precariously perched boulder.

The wind persisted but now the skies were overcast and ominous.  We had planned to hike up Oak Creek Canyon and check out Levitation 29, a route that has been near the top of my wish list for a while.  However, with rain a certainty it didn’t seem like a good idea to commit to a 2+ hour approach hike.  So, we decided to climb The Friar, a route that has always piqued my interest.  The Friar ascends a large buttress/pillar 4 pitches to the top of a huge, precariously perched boulder.  The route is runout and frankly more than a little dangerous – In 2010 a woman died after falling on the 3rd pitch, which is only 5.6 but has rotten rock and offers no protection.  The 4th and final pitch is also bold, with burly moves on overhanging rock with only thin wires and an ancient rusty bolt for protection.  And on this day, 40 mph winds made the pitch extra spicy!  All went well and we were treated to a cool summit.  This route is worth doing once but probably not again.

After finishing The Friar, we moved a few hundred yards right to Byrd Pinnacle and climbed two single pitch gems:

Our work in Oak Creek Canyon done, we hiked back to the car.   It was only early afternoon and the weather was holding so we decided to drive to the other side of the park and do one more route:  Running Man.  I onsighted this fantastic 11c enduro pitch a few years ago.  However, this go-round I had already climbed 6 pitches and hiked for 2+ hours.  I was pretty worked.  About 80 feet up the gently overhanging route I simply ran out of steam and got so pumped that I couldn’t hold the tiny crimps long enough to clip bolts.  So I lowered down, feeling thoroughly wasted.  It ended up being a blessing in disguise because as soon as my feet touched the ground it started to rain and within an hour we were in a full downpour.

Our flight was scheduled for late afternoon to allow for a full day of climbing.  However, it’s usually not a good idea to climb sandstone the day after a hard rain, so we decided to fly home early.

Overall it was a great trip despite less-than-ideal weather.  Red Rocks always delivers…

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:

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.

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

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:


  • 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


  • Remote Control
  • Out of Control

24 Hours In Red Rocks

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…