Posts Tagged 'crags'

Rock Skills for Rock Beekers: Buttermilks to Crystal Crag

From 11-14 October I worked with a geology team representing Occidental University, Central Washington University, and Penn State. They’re going to be heading down to Antarctica this winter to collect samples from the Transantarctic Range, and wanted to develop some 3rd-class and fixed rope rock skills. I had glorious plans of climbing some of the most classic 3rd class routes on the peaks accessible in a day from the highway, when one of our first storms of the fall blanketed the mountains in snow and made the days cold. So some quick thinking turned up days in the Buttermilks, North Bluffs of June Lake, Crystal Crag, and Iris Slab.

This is what I believe Sierra Mountain Center really excels at – custom trips for people with unique objectives. They didn’t have any summits or routes in mind. Instead, Anne contacted us and said, “This is what we’re capable of, this is what we want to get out of the weekend.” And SMC was able to make a great experience.

Chris is an Alpine, Ski, and Rock Guide for SMC, and an AMGA Certified Alpine Guide. You can read more about his adventures at Climb.Ski.Run.Sleep.Repeat.


Fall Rock Climbing!!

I just finished what is likely to be my last alpine trip for the season this weekend. The day we said goodbye in Bishop it was just reaching 70 degrees. Fall is here, the aspens have turned golden, and the top of the peaks are dusted with snow. Its time to break out the skis, sharpen the tools, and get ready for another winter…
Forget that – let’s go rock climbing!
Seriously, now that its getting damn cold in the mountains, the temperatures in the valleys just can’t be beat. We’re talking highs in the 60’s and 70’s, folks. That means if you want to come to Bishop and work on your technical climbing skills, it won’t get any better then Clark’s Canyon and Owens River Gorge for clipping bolts, and Little Egypt for clipping gear.

Want to go out for a little more “expedition” experience? El Potrero Chico, outside of Monterey, Mexico, is where its at. We’d stay at the Posada, which features a full community kitchen, rooms with private baths, and if you don’t want to cook Luis’ Mom has a fantastic restaurant on the premises. Just next door is the best coffee and the rock climbing is less then 15 minutes walk up the road. El Potrero is an incredible formation of limestone, known most famously for its multi-pitch routes. The only caveat emptor: The climbing starts at 5.8, and is dominantly 5.10. You should be ready to follow 5.10b if you really want to make the most out of a week here.
Does that sound like a little much? Then there is someplace just as big but closer than you may think – Red Rocks, Nevada. Located just outside of Las Vegas, this place is equally famous for incredible multi-pitch trad routes – especially those below 5.10. If you are still working on your technique, but want to climb longer routes, then this is the place to go. We can either stay at the group campsite from 24-28 October, or at a single site any other time, or you can stay in a hotel in town and be driven out to the climbing daily – the Strip is less then 30 minutes away!!
But multi-pitch routes aren’t for every one. Maybe you just want to work on your technique in an incredible desert setting, only a few hours drive from Los Angeles. It can only mean Joshua Tree National Park. With over 1000 individual routes to choose from, this is the place to work on your climbing. They say if you can climb the grade in J-Tree, you can climb anywhere. And like Red Rocks, camping or hotels are possible.
But not everyone lives in LA – some of us are lucky enough to live near San Francisco Bay. And for us, we have Lover’s Leap and Donner Summit. Both are great destinations for single to four pitch climbs up to 5.9 in difficulty. Both have camping and hotel options nearby: Lover’s Leap looks down on the historic stage stop of Strawberry and the Strawberry Inn and Restaurant. Donner Summit is only a few mile west of the historic and adventure summit town of Truckee.
So that’s what is on my mind, as I wait for the snow to really fall and skiing to start at my new ski area: Alpine Meadows. Until then, you can count on my heading out and enjoying cool air and warm rock this fall. Interested in joining me? Send me a comment with your email and I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

Mt St Helena, The Bear

I set out yesterday to have a climbing session with a little trail run. But along the way…
I’ve been eager to try out a top-rope soloing system, and I thought that the Bear Wall on Mt St Helena would be a perfect place. I had run past the cliff last fall and spied what I thought would be a straightforward 4th class approach to the ledge system that runs across the middle of the face and above the first tier of routes. Ideal, I thought, for setting up a top rope session. So I packed up my gear and a static line and headed out.
I ran into a group of 13 & 14 year-olds, their teachers, and a climbing instructor getting ready to lead them up to the Quarry. The instructor and I recognized each other from last fall, nodded a friendly hello, and then I decided I wanted to be gone. So I took the more direct, shadier, and steeper old trail up the stream, past the Quarry and to the cell-tower road. Cumulus clouds and a light air glided across the sun and my skin to keep me cool, and after a steep scramble I reached the left side of the Wall.
I stopped for a moment to re-organize my gear and get some water. Then I put on my harness, racked my equipment, and put on my climbing shoes. I carefully stacked the rope in my pack so that I could easily pull it out when I reached the anchor for the first climb. Then I shouldered my pack and took off.
The route I had envisioned proved to be steeper then it looked from the ground. Doesn’t it always? It was dirtier too, the rock was covered with this dry scabby lichen that crumbled under my hands. Soon I was making 4th class moves high above the ground, finally standing atop a pillar, only to be stumped by a simple 5th class move. I just couldn’t commit. I didn’t have the confidence in the stone that I know I’ll have in July after a month of climbing rock. And between my stance on the pedestal and that step-and-pull across the gulf onto the sloping edge was a 40-foot drop to the ground. So I retreated, I bailed, I chickened out, I down-climbed, I saved myself, I lived-to-fight-another-day, I drank some water and wondered, “What the f…?”
Looking at the hand-drawn lines in the only guidebook in print, a staple back, and it appeared that another possible approach existed on the right side of the cliff. So I moved over and tried this new corner, 4th class again but across cleaner, more confidence-inspiring rock. But then I was stumped by a final 10 feet of vertical/mildly overhanging, and no visual promise that it would work. So down again, carefully feeling for the holds and stepping on the edges that I had moved upwards on not so long ago.
After all this time, I’m still on the ground with the rope at my feet and nothing to show for it. And now I’ve run out of time and drive to do anything else but to take off the shoes, the equipment, the harness and stow it all in my pack. A few more minutes and I’m trotting down the trail leading away from the right side of wall.
This trail is a much better option to the left. It descends gradually instead of steeply, graded instead of gravely, through desert oak and pine trees instead of down a wash, improved instead of eroding, and regained the road by a mellow opening in the trees instead of a steep and sudden embankment. Note to self.
20 mintes later I’m sweating and breathing hard. I ran the other trail back to the parking lot, the trail I had avoided before for being the least steep, longer, and sunnier route to the cliff.
So instead I had a trail run with a little bit of 4th class climbing and pack training thrown in!

banner photo: antarctica / mark allen

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