Tahquitz & Suicide Sampler

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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.

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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!

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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

Thursday
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.

Friday
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.

Saturday
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.

Sunday
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:

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…