Monday, June 27, 2011

Hospital Corner

If you like a big stemming corner with hand jams, finger locks and laybacks, and if you want to climb like that for some 120 feet, visit Hospital Corner (5.10a) at Lover's Leap. This is one of the most spectacular pitches of climbing I have done and is most memorable. I have no photos of this climb so here is one I borrowed from Mountain Project.
Photo credit goes to "Annie from Bishop"
The first pitch goes at 5.8 and has a tricky crux.  The second pitch is of course the money pitch.  I found it very sustained and technical.  The stems are BIG requiring more flexibility in the legs than I truly have - as a result I was quite sore the next day!  If this is your limit you will likely find this to be a thrilling whole-body workout.  Climb it well and you won't be spending any time in the hospital!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sorry Charlie

On Friday we climbed one of the best 5.8s at the Leap, Haystack. This photo was taken while the infamous Charlie Winger was racking up for pitch one - as he sorted through my gear to rack up, apparently he wanted me to know what he thought of my hexes!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fun in the California Sun

A quick stop in a Nevada County library allows me a little catch-up time. I'll need to post more photos later however. I have been in the South Lake Tahoe region now for just over a week, climbing entirely at Lover's Leap.  There is so much rock around here it makes my neck sore.  I haven't yet explored beyond the fabulous and fun cliffs at Lover's Leap.  There are so many classic moderate climbs at the Leap that there has not yet been any need to venture further.  It is so convenient to be able to climb from the campground.  When I got in the van this morning to drive Charlie and Randy to the airport, it took me a few moments to remember how to drive! Where is reverse? How do I shift? What does this big round wheel do?

The landscape changes dramatically when you go over the mountain passes above Lake Tahoe and east into the valley below in Nevada.  It becomes a desert environment again. And it didn't take long to be re-immersed in the un-pleasantries of the Nevada way of life. Casinos, sprawl, heat, unfriendly people and gas stations that do not accept credit cards. That's right - I cannot fill my tank at the unless I pay cash or use a DEBIT card. I suppose Nevada businesses are all about making the money now, not later. What a crock! I guess I'll have to choose between $4.10/gal gas in CA or $3.70/gal gas in Nevada cash only.

Meredith and I will stock up on supplies, do some laundry then climb a few more days before heading out this Thursday I expect.  For any interested climbing readers, the routes climbed at the Leap thus far (if I can remember accurately) are as follows:
* Deception 5.6 (Hogsback) - I climbed a 5.7 finger crack variation which was quite nice
* Harvey Wallbanger's Right 5.7 (Hogsback) - I thought this climb was very fun and interesting with 2 small roofs on the 2nd pitch. Highly recommended.
* The Groove 5.8 (LL Lower Buttress) - a very spicy 2 pitch climb that keeps your attention with distinct differences in climbing techniques and rock features between pitches. Wow!
* Surrealistic Pillar 5.7 (LL Lower Buttress) - a fun climb and worth doing, but a bit over-rated in my opinion
* Hogwild 5.7 (Hogwild) - a spicy face and small crack line. be sure to use 2 60M ropes or a 70M to get down from the rap anchor.
* Mixologist 5.9 (Hogwild) - a terrific climb with a single bolt protected crux over the roofy bulge that continues to a fantastically fun jam crack.
* Corrugation Corner 5.7 (LL Main Wall) - probably the most popular climb at LL and for good reason. Three STELLAR pitches in and out of a huge dihedral.  My favorite climb at the Leap.
* The Line 5.9 (LL East Wall) - also hugely popular and also for good reason.Considered sustained climbing. I found it to be pure fun and easier than I expected. Personally I think some of the 5.8s here have harder moves.  I HIGHLY recommend this climb.
* East Crack 5.8 (LL East Wall) - a fine 3 pitch line that is of great quality from top to bottom.
* Haystack 5.8 (LL East Wall) - probably the most popular 8 at the Leap. All 3 pitches are fun and the second pitch roof is hard for the grade when onsighting - apparently once you know the gear, moves and the jug hold it feels easier. Don't miss this climb!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gotta Love Strawberry

Strawberry Lodge: This place was originally built in 1858 and most recently rebuilt (after fires) in 1939. It is walking distance from the campground (note Lover's Leap cliffs in background) and therefore easy to get a shower, cold brew and meal.

Enter Lover's Leap

According to the guidebook there are many speculations as to why they call it Lover's Leap. The campground used to be free - but I sure don't mind paying $10/night for a campsite in a beautiful setting 10 minutes walking distance to the cliffs.

Corrugation Corner

This is perhaps the best climb at Lover's Leap, certainly at the grade.  Pure fun from ground to top out.  Pitch 2 consists of great corner climbing, then transitioning to an exposed arete and finishing with an awkward move onto the big sloping belay ledge referred to as the "beached whale".  Pitch 3 has a chimney, more corner climbing and super fun and easy face climbing to the top out.
Meredith climbing the massive corner on pitch 2

Randy readies to be a beached whale

Friday, June 17, 2011

Yosemite's Half Dome

Half Dome is located at the eastern (?) end of the valley. It somehow seems dwarfed by El Cap when you drive into the park because El Cap towers directly above you and Half Dome is much further away, "out of reach" driving in.  But Half Dome is higher in elevation (over 4700 feet) and access is more difficult (I think).

Half Dome - note the snow on the top and ledges below

Tori posing with Half Dome in background
Yet another view from the valley meadows
The Snake Dike (5.7R) is a route Randy and I considered, but several factors dissuaded us - snow on top (see photos); the cable route was still closed - that made it unclear if the vertical supports would even be up and therefore the descent could be hairy; a 3+ hour/6 mile approach for a multipitch climb of 8+ pitches and an unknown descent. Sure, let's go! NOT.
Original pic from iPhone

Saturday, June 11, 2011

There is Too Much to Look At (previously Great Granite)

That's correct.  If you have ever been to Yosemite National Park you know just what I mean.  Randy and I were there a mere 6 days and I estimate we saw about 1/1,000,000,000th of what there is to see there. Our necks are sore from looking up (and that's NOT including belaying!)

Pine Line - truly a warm up for the next 5.7!
We thought we should get right to it on Day One and climb the big stone - El Capitan. This little piece of rock towers to over 7,500 feet and the vertical rock climbing routes can be as long as 2,900 feet (The Nose rises 2,916 from base to top).  We set our sights on some daringly long routes such as Pine Line (5.7), a whopping 70 feet from the base of El Cap! The ease of this nice crack climb tricked us into thinking we could bump up the grades on our subsequent climbs.  But like most climbing areas, the grades run the gamut and one 5.7 is completely different than the next. 

Now it was Randy's turn. Another 5.7 should do the trick - so we ventured over to the recommended La Cosita Left.  As soon as you hit the base of this climb you are intimidated and impressed by its steepness.  And this turned out to be a hell of a 5.7 route.  Good chimney and offwidth skills are a must and while the climb is relatively short, it packs a punch.

The highlight of our first day however, was the beauty and the beast at Moby Dick (5.10a). I had backed off a 5.9 earlier (due to the polished nature of the rock which made an ordinary layback feel extraordinarily difficult),  so it was still my turn.  Moby Dick is a crack line just calls to be climbed - so what the hell? Honestly, I thought the crux was not the opening finger crack moves as most others declared. But then again, that is typical because my fingers are a lot smaller than mens' fingers so I believe I can get finger locks that most of them can't. More difficult offwidth moves await you above and actually the "crux" of the route is climbing it with only one number 4 cam!  This offwidth goes on for what seems like an eternity (if you are leading with only one #4, that is) and I worked quite hard to get as far as I did.  
Moby Dick (5.10a) - I am just getting
into the offwidth business
 Eventually, I felt it was completely unsafe to continue to bump up the cam. The climbing became increasingly difficult as the crack widened ever so slightly and the tiny face holds melted away.  I felt forced to lower off and Randy said he would give it a go.  He came to the exact same conclusion once he got up there and felt what was trying describe moments earlier from high above.  Leaving a #4 cam and an additional cam a bit lower was not desirable, so we sought a couple who had walked by earlier hoping to climb the route.  Our theory was that if we could find another pair with their own #4 cam they could finish the climb having the advantage of using TWO large cams.  While that couple was not available, we did find another nearby climber who was interested in climbing Moby Dick. So Aaron and his partner Nate agreed to give it a go.  
Aaron's competent and attentive belayer Nate

Now Aaron is young, strong and tall and climbs 5.11 in Index (WA) so we assumed he would generally hike this route. Besides, I don't often onsight 5.10 trad climbs, especially my first day at Yosemite, yet I climbed as far as I did without hanging, resting, or falling (I just needed more large gear.)  Surely a 5.11 climber would find this easy! Not so - it took him quite the long time and he felt it necessary to have a THIRD #4 Camalot to complete the route up high at the long offwidth.  We had to send that cam up to him on a loop of rope so he could top out.  
Aaron has finished my business
and is headed for the anchor.
Note the remaining 2,802 ft of El Cap above
 We so appreciated these guys who not only retrieved our gear but were friendly, interesting and without egos.  I don't think Aaron cared this route was 5.10a - he respected it right off the ground and never once commented in such a way as to display hubris. This was refreshing.

Welcome to Yosemite.  I guess I've got some more climbing skills to master before I climb the rest of El Cap - or maybe just a bigger rack!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Musings and Ponderings

Today I am meeting climbing friend Randy and we will head to Yosemite Valley.  An overnight at a hotel in Fresno has allowed me to reorganize, clean up and do laundry.  It has also allowed time for some catch up on email, calls, blogging, etc.

What I have not yet had the opportunity to blog about here is the contemplations and observations I make while on the road.  Additionally, I have all along desired to give something back to the places where I land whenever and however possible.  In many ways this trip feels selfish.  I realize how fortunate I am to be able to afford such a journey and to have a spouse, good friends and family supporting and encouraging me. Traveling across the US by car has a unique way of opening the eyes, mind and heart to things which would otherwise go unnoticed.  Our recent hard economic times are visible in some places more than others.

In Fresno last night, I needed to pick up some reading glasses (I've lost and trashed most pairs since leaving Vermont).  So as I plodded towards the discount store's automatic glass door entrance, I heard soft voices off my left shoulder, seemingly pleading for help.  I immediately felt the swell of feelings associated with ignoring or acknowledging a fellow human being in need.  Why is it that our first instinct is to ignore and keep walking, pretending we do not hear or notice?  And what if this instinct is overcome by feelings of shame and responsibility? How do we help others and how do we judge the level of assistance needed while weighing our own ability to give? I doubt I will ever know the answers, so I must accept that I will take it as it comes.

The young woman and presumably her son (I guess 10 years of age) were holding a small cardboard sign asking for money.  I turned - I approached them - I inquired. Why do you need money? What has happened to you? What has brought you to this point?  The answers remained unclear as the language barrier was too great.  I attempted to understand and inquire with my worst Spanish - all I could decipher was that she had no home and little to no food for her family.

I fussed through my wallet looking for small bills and handed over what I thought I could. Anxious scrutiny rushed into my mind. How much is enough? Could this amount really help? Why don't I give more? How do I know they aren't scamming me? Why does the little voice in my head even ask the scam question? What's the difference? How could it possibly be a scam if they are standing on the street asking for a few dollars or spare change? Why do some have so much and others so little?

Of course they were grateful for what I gave them. I don't think they have much success there though. But perhaps it is all they have for now.  I would have rather taken them out for a meal and tried to find them the help they really need.  But somehow my own needs and schedule comes first - there seems to be a thousand reasons why I cannot stop what I am doing to help someone else.  Is this really how it works? My best answer at least for now is to admit that I am more vulnerable than usual while I travel on this journey.  With time to contemplate and absorb coupled with my own personal objectives, I will likely continue to ponder these questions and look for ways to bring some kindness to someone else. More often than not I likely fail.

While in Idyllwild last week, I hoped to find some volunteer work during my rest day.  I asked a few businesses in town if they needed help - even the library had to turn me away because of the paperwork necessary to accept a volunteer. There are a lot of needy folks in that town although all that is visible to the less-discerning eye is booming retail shops, mountain lodging and dining establishments for the tourist-types. The librarian informed me of the Community Help Center in town, so off I went to find them.  They provide clothing, a food pantry and other types of assistance to the eligible needy I guess.  Inevitably, I failed at this as well since the help center is closed on Mondays.  When all such attempts fail, I pick up litter.  By the end of this trip I should be able to make a pretty good comparison of the dirtiest and cleanest communities I pass through.  Hmmm, another musing for a future post perhaps.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Farewell Tahquitz and Thank You

Yesterday Meredith and I did our final climb on Tahquitz Rock and it was a good one. We did a 3 star route called Fingertrip.  Lots of liebacking, some stemming and face climbing with a small roof to boot!  To avoid the dreaded Friction Descent walk-off, we creatively made our way to a rap tree below lunch ledge and rapped the route Angel's Fright to the ground. Phew!

Today we headed up to Suicide Rocks again and took a look at the slab routes on the Weeping Wall. These routes are run out friction slab climbing with a few bolts here and there - spicy stuff!  I studied the start to Serpentine and compared it to the start of Revelation and chose the latter.  This 5.8 slabfest really keeps your attention. 5.9 and 5.10 slab will have to wait until another day, when I have a LOT more courage.

I couldn't get any photos of Fingertrip and only had my iPhone to snap one last view of Tahquitz on the hike out today, so it is posted separately below.  While this place really kicked our butts, I am grateful for the experience here. It is good to work so hard on something and find that persistence pays off, even if it is at a humbling level.  We must admit, however, we will NOT miss those strenuous hikes up to Tahquitz with heavy packs!  Now open that bottle of vino, Meredith!

Tahquitz Rock


Monday, June 6, 2011

Photo Flavors

I am posting a variety of photos that are intended to give a taste of the flavors here in Idyllwild.  The mountain town is quaint mix of specialty shops, restaurants, bakeries and lodging business (inns, B & Bs and cabins).  There are 2 campgrounds in town (we are staying at Iyllwild Park run by Riverside County - a gem of a park!) There is a small organic grocery and health food store, bakeries, coffee houses, 2 gas stations, 2 lumber yards/hardware stores, a laundy facility and of course the public library. At first glance the town appears to be in good shape. But on closer look and in speaking with local business owners here, it is clear the recession/depression has taken its toll on Idyllwild and there are many people living here in very hard times.  The tourism appears to be essential to the town's livlihood.

Idyllwild Village

Idyllwild looking north with Tahquitz Rock looming in the background. 
Photos do no justice for scale.

Many businesses in town have wooden bear carvings. The local who does these carvings has this display at the south end of town

This humurous sign is in front of a retail shop called the Grey Squirrel

The bear carver has this carved frame positioned
 just right for a view of Tahquitz Rock

Sugar Pines are large and spectacular!

The pine cones dropped from the sugar pines are enormous!
(One litre bottle for scale)

Suicide Rocks as viewed from high on the approach trail to Tahquitz

Stella, a 14 year old sweetie in the campground.
She just ate some yogurt and has some left on her face.
Climbers from San Diego who were loads of fun.
L to R: Jen, Brad, Anne and none other than Meredith

Where Do You Start?

I have been in Idyllwild, CA now for several days.  Meredith and I continue to find the climbing game here challenging.  In fact the challenges presented are less about the difficulties of the rock climbs and more about the approaches, descents and simply finding the start of the routes! Yesterday we wanted to climb a recommended route on the North Face of Tahquitz Rock - a 5.7 hand crack called El Whampo. The approach trail on this side of the rock is a bit less steep and long making for a welcomed relief from the trudge trail to Lunch Rock.  On a beautiful Sunday with the parking lot jammed and bustling with climbers and hikers, we expected the cliff to be busy.  No such thing on the north face - only one pair of climbers seen and they were already on the route we had planned to do. This was welcomed as routefinding is no trivial matter here - climbers above us would aid in showing the way.  But we were snuffed again. We studied the route description and topos in the guidebook. We studied photos on Mountain Project (yes, I got a 3G signal on my iPhone up there!) We walked along the base of the climb and simply could not find anything that remotely matched the descriptions and photos of the start, yet we could see the handcrack on the 2nd pitch high above us.  Without knowledge of the start or finish of the climb, no known options for rappelling down once we committed to climb up, and the increasing lateness of the day, we felt it was not prudent to wing it and climb and unknown section of rock just to get higher - playing it safe can be frustrating, but you know you will live to climb another day. Score: Tahquitz Rock - 3, Meredith and Jean - 0.

Later that evening a further study of the photos in the guidebook revealed to me that I believe we were not standing at the base of the climb but still 60 feet below it. It appears that there is another scramble up to a large ledge above to access the start of the route.  Since the start of this scramble was not obvious we missed it and presumed the large ledge we were standing on directly at the base of the route was where we should start.  Hind sight is indeed 20-20. We will go back to Suicide and a known route with rap stations tomorrow and the next day before moving on. This is all a part of the adventure and we are learning from it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

New Places Take Time To Learn

After our "spanking" Wednesday at Tahquitz, Meredith and I gave it another shot today.  I can say we faired much better with the actual climbing part, but not the descent.  We did NOT top out this time, opting instead to do one pitch off the ground then rap back down. Since we left our packs about 50 feet below the route's start, one would expect it would be easy to return to the packs - not so.  You see, we had to climb up an awful chimney to get to the base of the route (ended up being a 5th class solo for me, then putting Meredith on belay for safety - insert curse words here). The first pitch of Left Ski Track was loads of fun and felt more like the grade should feel.  But since we didn't want to downclimb the 5th class chimney after rapping, we elected to follow the descent trail that wraps around the whole cliff. This ended up taking us too far downhill and away from the cliff and our packs.  More than an hour later, we retraced some of the various paths through manzanita (insert curse words here) and made it back to our packs.  No time for another route as all we could consider was a 165 foot pitch. Even the 70 meter rope couldn't cut that for rapping back down and no time to top out on another route.  Score: Tahquitz 2 - Meredith and Jean 0

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Major Dose of Humility

Today was the first day we climbed at Tahquitz in Idyllwild, CA. This is where the country's first 5.8s, 9s and 10s were established leading to the Yosemite Decimal System we use to measure difficulty today. Meredith and I essentially had our asses kicked on one of the easier/easiest routes "Angel's Fright" (FA 1936). The "easiest" DESCENT known as the Friction Descent kicked our butts further along. If it weren't for local Ernesto, we might still be on the cliff trying to figure out a way down.
I have MUCH blogging to catch up on including photos and reflections on the past several days - this will all have to wait until after "school" - I have much to learn about climbing right here at Tahquitz.
Looking up at Tahquitz from the parking area at sunset