Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Needles Holiday

Luke leads up Atlantis (5.11c).

Two weeks after our previous weekend out at the Needles, Lin and I decided to join a bunch of friends heading back to the Needles for Labor Day. Luke and Lizzie (from were there, as was the "Josh and Josh" show and the rest of the gang. After driving up Friday night, Saturday we headed back out towards the crag with much better weather than a couple weeks prior. As the Needles tower came into full view, I finally started to get truly excited about the weekend's upcoming adventures. We had a list of climbs we wanted to try, but weren't too certain yet about what that would be. Luke and Lin and I talked about our theories on when it is best to try your harder objective - early when you're fresh and ready, or later when you're used to the rock, but maybe not quite as strong. Being one who normally feels he burns out quickly and doesn't have much endurance, I was in favour of just jumping on the hard stuff to start. Lin, on the other hand, definitely believes in warm-up climbs to get the blood flowing, and get used to the rock. Luke... well, it depends on the climb. This all came up as I had aspirations to try the sustained 5.11b climb "Don Juan" on this trip, and was trying to think of when it would be best to try it.

Arriving at the crag, we quickly noticed that there were a lot of people there. Especially on the popular climbs around the "Witch", "Sorcerer" and "Charlatan" walls. We decided not to start directly on Don Juan, and instead headed for Lin's wish - "Fancy Free", a classic 5.10. Unfortunately, arriving at the base we saw there was already a party of 3 on the route, and they were moving SLOW. So, while waiting for them, we looked through the book, and saw another nearby route called "Bad Fortune" which has a 5.11c face crux, or can go at 5.10 A0 by aiding on bolts through the crux. I led up, and actually found that the climb wasn't too bad with my long reach, and enjoyed the first pitch immensely. Unfortunately, while statically looking at the crux moves while at a smearing stance, my foot slipped, and I lost the onsight - too bad, since none of the moves were very hard. Lin followed up, having more problems due to her smaller reach, and then we rapped off the first pitch thinking that the party of 3

Lindsey follows P3 of Fancy Free.

had moved far enough off Fancy Free and we could start climbing that. In the meantime, Luke and Lizzie were making fast progress up another route, 5.11c Atlantis, and it was fun to watch Luke just cruise the pitches on lead. Lin wanted the classic second pitch, so I took the first. A fun pitch, not trivial despite it's 5.9 rating. Lin then took the second pitch, cruising it and running it out a bit at the end to make it to the anchors on a few small pieces far below... anchors unfortunately still occupied by the other group. Soon they had moved on though, and I followed up and led the last pitch - another fun, varying pitch with fingers, off-widthing, diagonal hand jams, and a fun exposed top-out move.

After some lunch (friggin' wasps were ridiculously aggressive at getting their share), we decided we'd traverse in to

Sunset at our Needles camp.

another 5.10 classic, "Airy Interlude" on the witch, and climb the classic pitch of that route before calling it a day. Unfortunately, once we had traversed halfway to it, we realized there was another party hang-dogging their way up it piece-by-piece. Not realizing how long they too would take, we hung around for probably about an hour and half or so until they were far enough along for us to start up. In the meantime though, we were able to watch Josh lead, and Luke follow, up Pyromania (5.13), an impressive line below the Sorcerer. They headed out, and then we finally blasted out our route, myself leading both pitches (Lin had led the upper one 2 weeks prior as part of Igor Unchained), and finishing just in time to reach the packs as darkness hit. A later day than we'd hoped for thanks to our hold-ups, but a lot of fun... so we stashed our gear for the next day, and headed back the 2+ miles to camp by headlamp.

Back the next morning, we had one main mission for the day, and that was "Thin Ice" (5.10b) on the Sorcerer... and I still had hopes for Don Juan (5.11b), which shared the same start. We got to the base a little late again, but racked up and headed to Thin Ice. Talking with others, it sounded like Lin would be the

Lindsey leads P2 of Thin Ice.

strongest for the second pitch, so I led up the first pitch to the base of the OW section. Quickly upon starting up the very steep route, I realized I was actually a bit tired and sore from the day before, and today was not going to be the day for Don Juan. Leading clean, I still rested whenever a good foot allowed and took way too long to lead the first pitch. While belaying Lin up, I had a great view of Luke and Lizzie on sport book, and now would really like to go back and do that climb. Lin followed in good style, and soon she was at the base and ready for pitch 2... a 60-70M rope stretcher (depending on what tree you belay from) to the top. She really made me proud working up through the crux start OW with a hand-ish crack in the back, and then ran it out at the top (all while wishing she had another #2 camalot). A proud lead. I followed, blowing my foot right at the beginning, but catching myself on a finger jam... as usual, my well-scarred hands cracked and were torn open, and I painted the rest of the jams on the OW a nice crimson red. Then up to the top, to finish another awesome climb, before meeting some really kind Aussie's who were about to rappel off the top at the same time. That was it for that day though, and then we headed off to camp - still light out this time, but still rather late by the time we'd socialized and had lunch.

Monday - the last day of the trip. We thought about getting an early start, but again failed at that venture. So, arriving at the crag a bit late again after the nice hike in, we arrived at our gear only to look up and see Josh making a proud onsight of the sporty sport route Scirocco (5.12), which has some long run-outs at the top. The Aussie's had also gotten an early start on Don Juan, and were cruising it while taking pics of Josh. It was really inspirational to watch him work his way up the climb, and I loved watching the determination with which he made each hard move. Luke ran down to TR it after him, and so Lin and I also headed down, but with plans of taking a mellow day and climbing Innersanctum (5.9), another Needles classic. On the way down, however, I really started to wonder about possibly leading Atlantis, a classic 5.11c with

Lindsey coils rope while admiring the Needles.

short cruxes. I didn't think I'd be strong enough after already climbing 2 days, but headed to the base just to check it out anyhow.

Arriving at the base, I looked carefully at the climb - taking a long time to finally decide that it just looked too pumpy for my tired condition. In the end though, I took too long and as we continued to descent toward Innersanctum, we noticed two Italians hanging out at the base. "Allura ragazzi, cos'e' vorreste fare" I asked them. "Il 5.9" they told.. the 5.9... the route we were planning on, and not it's neighbor "Spook Book". That left us one choice... Atlantis.

Back up to Atlantis, and a Lin a little flustered at delays having cost us the route, I borrowed a water bottle from Josh M., and thin nuts from Josh H., and up to the route we headed. I was nervous, I'd never led a proper 5.11+ before (supposedly a 5.11/5.12 PG13 mixed route in red rocks, but I swear it's graded wrong), and scared I was going to pump out and take a whipper in an inconvenient location. Lin helped me get psyched and get my head together though, and up the first pitch (5.10c) I went, hurrying through the pumpy lieback, then slowing down to take it one move at a time and properly warm up the rest of the way up. By the time I'd finished leading that pitch, I'd finally gotten my lead head back on, and was ready for the next 5.10 pitch. That pitch was a little awkward off the start, but after pulling on a couple thin flakes, I merged with my previous lead from "Thin Ice", and then traversed over to our stance at the base of the crux pitch.

Josh leads up Scirocco (5.12).

As I belayed Lin up, I eyed the crux pitch and was a little nervous about it. Basically it goes something like this: traverse 8 feet to the right, place 2-purple, or a purple and blue TCU a little over head high from the ledge you're standing on, then start some strenuous tips lie-backing until you're 10 or so feet above your pieces. Try not to fall, as you'll take a ride, and possibly straddle your rope on the way down.

Lin was soon up at the stance though, having cruised the 5.10 pitch, and soon it was my turn to head up the hard stuff. Am I on? Alright... traverse over, place two pieces, look up and cringe, return to wider part of ledge and wimper. Repeat, 1, 2, 3 times or more, mixing in a half-hearted attempt at starting once or twice. Finally I got over there though, and knew it was time to rock. 1, 2, 3 moves and above the gear. Keep moving. Wind, shizer, I'm barn-dooring, hold-on... close the door, continue up. Yey, a jug! Shizer, I'm too pumped to place gear without a decent foot. Don't want to pitch off. Keep climbing to a better stance. Ikes, those going to take a ride if I pitch now. Alright, I can place gear from this stance. Place two pieces, still pumped, keep moving...

After the tips lie back, you get an uncomfortable stance to cool your forearms for a few seconds before continuing up some 5.11b diaganol up and right traverses on thin gear. Make the moves, the end of the hard stuff is near. I see a ledge, YES! Reach up and... what? Sloper! F-it, I'm not going to pitch, mantle up, and hooray! I'm on a big ledge! Bummer, my arms are so pumped I'm not even sure I can do the easy 5.9 lower angle hand crack in front of me. Place a piece, clip the fixed gear, and go...

Robb, starting up Atlantis (5.11c).

Finally arriving at the stance after the fun crux pitch, it took me a few seconds before I could even get up the energy to belay Lin up. She followed up though, having some troubles in the lie-backing, but doing great... fingers frozen from being in the windy shade and all. Then, it was time to shake out and do the next crux, some funky 5.11b lie-backing on funky pro before getting a fixed nut, and eventually a nice #2 C4 before pulling what I thought was the really insecure move. Up some 5.easy to the last 5.11a dihedral (an awesome finish... don't cheat yourself and do the 5.10a finish), and viola'! Atlantis onsight! Although not sustained, I was pretty stoked to lead it onsight for my hardest trad lead yet, and on the last day of the trip. Lin followed up in great style, cruising it after a hang to get my wedged #2 out, and back to San Diego. What an awesome end to the weekend, and thanks Luke and Lizzie for your company! Check out their site at for more pictures, and info on their sends, as well as Josh's proud leads.

For the next trip? Hopefully Innersanctum, Spook Book, and Don Juan.

At the crux on Atlantis.

At the crux on Atlantis.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Whitney - Russell Weekend

As the heat hit San Diego a couple weekends ago, Lin and I decided to escape and head up to the Sierra. Our plan was to give Russell's Mithril Dihedra a second go (snow had kept us from getting to the climb until too late in the day back in May), and to try the rarely climbed direct east face of Whitney. Leaving San Diego Friday evening, we arrived in the Whitney Portal and hit the trail around 11:45, hiking through the night to get to basecamp at Iceberg lake while avoiding the rangers who insist you have a permit (but which quotas make hard to obtain).
Despite complaining about being out of shape from spending the last few months studying for the MCAT, Lin kept up and pulled her share, and we made good time up the trail. While traversing the cliffs below Lower Boyscout Lake, we picked up a straggler who had gotten lost amongst the ledges, and then managed to get ourselves lost right above the lake (as usual), and it took a mild amount of bushwacking to re-obtain the trail. We were both tired after a long week of work, and coming from sea-level to a start-height of 8,200' in a few hours didn't help, but despite that, our weekend packs, and a little unintentional detour along the way, we made it to the cliffs below Iceberg lake by about 4.45 AM and bivied behind a rock to block the wind.

Although we both stayed pretty warm during the night, when I woke at 6.30 needing to use the bathroom, it was COLD! The wind seemed to take all body-heat away instantly, but still I couldn't help but stare at the beautiful east face of Mt. Whitney and the Keeler Needle burning in the pink morning light. It was gorgeous (though I'm not sure how I managed to get a decent picture considering how much I was shivering as I took them!). I was also awed by the look of the direct east face, and couldn't wait until Sunday when we would attempt it.

We both woke again and got moving around 7.15, and the chill that still permeated made me wonder if I'd made a mistake in leaving my poofy jacket at the car in interest of saving weight. As we got moving though, and the sun began to truly shine, we quickly warmed up and about 20 minutes after breaking camp we were at Iceberg lake. Here, we dropped all our camping gear, hung our food away from the marmots, and grabbed our climbing gear for the Mithril dihedral on Russell. Unfortunately, in the process, I managed to misplace the topo maps for the route, but we decided to go for it anyhow since there were other parties headed there in front of us, and since it's such a straight-up obvious line.

When we approached the Mithril, we saw there was already one group on the route, and another waiting to go. Now the Mithril tends to be a rather chilly route, and the second group mentioned that they were waiting for the sun to come around and warm it up before they started. This made us fear that it'd be too late by the time we got started after them, but Lin's off-hand remark about us maybe starting before got us started up the route beforehand while it was still chilly. Lin led the first pitch in good style, cruising up the 5.8 cracks, and linking up a couple pitches so that she arrived at stance while the other group ahead of us was still there. I followed up, then we waited for the other guys to move before bumping up our anchor a few feet to a more comfortable stance. From there I had the classic next pitch of a beautiful 5.9/5.10 crack up a corner. I led up the beautiful crack, which rotated between fingers, hands and a little OW, and it was amazing. Going about 200' up before I reached a nice ledge to belay from, I took the majority of the "money" pitch, and couldn't believe how lucky I was. Unfortunately, although normally a better crack climber than I, Lin had some troubles on the route due to our heavy pack (we'd both worn boots, and put those heavy things in there), and was suffering pretty good by the time she arrived at the stance. In good form though, she led up the next pitch, which involved an exciting step-over/traverse to the belay ledge. Our friends that let us cut in front of them followed-up right behind us, and after a few pitches of 4th class to 5.6ish terrain, we arrived at the summit - utterly exhausted from hiking all night and barely sleeping. Back to Iceberg...

Sunday morning we woke up late... too late, and it would cost us that day. As we packed up camp, our buddy Josh and his girlfriend Sheila stopped by on their car-2-car trip of Whitney's East Buttress (they had climbed the regular route up the 3rd pillar of Mt. Dana two days before too), and then we went our different ways as Lin and I headed down toward the very bottom of the east face, and they continued up to the base of the buttress. Arriving at the buttress at about 9AM, we began to realize that prospects for doing the route were dismal due to our late start. Regardless, we decided to see how quickly we could go. I led up the 5.6 R/X first pitch, but by the time I'd done that and belayed Lin up it was nearly 10 - too late when we still had 14 pitches to go, including one of 5.10d off-width. So Lin let over to a spot that looked promising to bail, and two nervous raps on nuts behind cracked flakes later, we were back on the ground.

Both bummed, we slowly packed up when I remembered I'd see some blue off to the side in the rocks, and decided to go see what it was... a size large Mountain Hardwear poofy jacket! Sunfaded, but still in good condition, I threw it in the pack and we headed back to our camp. On the way, we debated about what to do with the rest of the day... go down and climb in the portal, or do something else up Whitney since neither of us had been to the top yet. In the end, we decided to just hike the mountaineers route, and after an hour and fifty minutes later (and after passing Josh and Sheila on their way down), we were at the top of Whitney! It was a gorgeous day, and we were both glad we'd decided to hike up in the end... though were appalled by the looks of the hikers trail in the distance. The endless zig-zags just didn't look appealing in the least, and I was glad that wasn't our way back down. Lin took time to make friends with a Mike, the begging marmot (well, maybe not the best of friends since she wouldn't give him any of our awesome banana bread and nutella sandwiches), and then we were on our way back down. We descended back to Iceberg Lake, grabbed the rest of our gear, and chased the sun on the way down as it settled behind Whitney to our backs. Another fun and gorgeous weekend in the Whitney portal... and another route to return to with hopes of completion.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


So, Linnie and I headed out to the Needles a couple weekends ago when the Sierra weather kept us from playing in the Whitney area. What an amazing place! The weather was funky on Saturday, and we drove from about 9PM-4AM Friday night to get there (a last minute change of plans since the Sierra weather was so bad), but Sunday was gorgeous, Margee's cookies at the fire-tower were great, and we had a blast. Routes climbed were Igor Unchained (5.9), Slight of Hand (5.10a), Spooky (5.9), and Our Lady of the Needles (5.7 summit block). What a fun weekend! It was so great that we went back this last weekend too, so stand by for a more complete post on the happenings there...