With the fall season in mind Lizzy and I took the weekend for a bit of a climbing tune-up. This weekend the goal was to climb a lot but do nothing too hard, use no trad gear and simply focus on endurance. Lizzy often solves climbs with her balance and technique and I try to pull hard and use my power. We both lack serious endurance and get easily pumped on longer climbs.
After a brief scouting mission a few weeks back I was anxious to get back to Owens with a partner. There were routes everywhere and they all looked good. We drove up Friday morning arriving in Bishop a bit after 11am. A bunch of shopping and setting up our tent at Horton Creek Campground put us at the parking lot around 1pm. Decending into the gorge we were greeted with interesting geological features and Lizzy explained to me the different cooling patterns and types of rock.
We chose Gotham City, located in the upper gorge, for our first place to climb. This was home to a bunch of long 5 star routes from easy 5.10 through harder 5.11. We warmed up on a long 5 star 10a with lots of bolts it was supposedly 37.5 meters in length. We had brought my new Stearling Ion this weekend and were happy to have the 70 meters of rope. We were surprised that the new rope lacked a middle mark but I safely lowered off proving that the route was shorter than 35 meters. The next climb, Dr. Evil, on the right was much more fun required crack climbing skills. Evidently Owens is a bit notorious for bolted cracks and this was no exception. The climbing was fun and we didn’t mind clipping the bolts.
Based on suggestions from a few locals that showed up we did the five star Grindrite 11b and Flex your Head 11c. I was able to onsight Grindrite but fell on my onsight attempt of Flex Your Head. I was able to do it 2nd go after Lizzy made an impressive top rope flash. These climbs were technical and diverse and were far different from the climbs we would experience on the rest of the trip. I finished up the day by linking the 2 pitches of Super Fly into a monster 45 meter 19 bolt monstrosity. I was doing well using long slings to limit rope drag until I made it to the 2nd crux. The quickdraw I used greatly exacerbated the ever increasing drag, next time I will use a long sling. Unfortuneately things got worse as I got into the upper crack; the holds were covered in bird poop and everything smelled awful. I kept going, fought hard for my onsight and eventually made it to the top. This route has be praised as the best 5.10 in the gorge and I was not impressed. While the position was excellent the quality of the rock combined with all the poo really turned me off. Since it was getting dark I rappeled and then lowered to clean the route, another mistake. It would be much better to do the climb in 2 pitches so that your second can clean the crux pitch one roof.
Day two we hit up the central gorge via the gully approach which is pretty steep but short and thus quite manageable. We started the day on Orange Peel 10c which was a forgettable climb only significant since it was one of the first climbs established in the gorge. Next at the Social Platform, the name of the crag, was a sweet 10d. A tricky sequence off the ground led to a series of ledges and the first crux. The bolts were a bit spaced on this climb but placed to perfectly protect the hard moves. A balancy section over a bulge led to some small holds and a nice head wall. After climbing up to a roof you reached over and clipped a high bolt. Pulling over this roof was supposed to be the crux but Lizzy and I both found it to be easier than the technical section below. The last headwall had cool pockets in the horizontal breaks and was a pleasure to climb.
Lunch in hand, Lizzy catches up on some sleep.
We were tired from a sleepless night and Lizzy took a little nap after we ate lunch. A storm had blown through Bishop and dusted the mountains in snow. Our campsite only got a small amount of precipitation but we were buffeted with wind throughout the night. Our 3 season REI tent held up fine in the wind but the fabric flapped loudly with each gust. We moved around the corner to Express Way. This five star 11b was dead vertical on slippery rock with small crimps. After a technical section down low you had to keep the pump at bay to get past the bulge protecting the anchors. I reached the anchors first try with burning forearms and Lizzy TRed the line with a few falls. A curious fact that I learned after returning to San Diego was that John Bachar had down climbed this route after soloing a nearby 12b. Clearly my endurance needs to improve a lot since I was fully pumped when I reached the anchor.
Next on the list was a stop at the Faulty Towers, an area I had checked out on my previous visit. While the technical Crybaby ,12c, called my name I needed to work more on endurance and racked up for LalaLand 11c. This steep jug haul was 35 meters long and had 12 bolts, exactly what I needed to work on. Many weeks prior I had pumped off the onsight of the first Pitch of the Imaginator, 11c, when my endurance failed me. I was hoping to improve by onsighting this climb. An easy crack led off the ground protected by 2 bolts in 30 feet. If you are worried about falling it would be beneficial to have some finger size gear. A long easy slab got me warmed up for the business but at the second hard section I faltered. Instead of committing to a small hold I tried to figure out a better sequence. I spent way too many minutes trying to work something out and the pump got the better of me. I conserved energy and fell my way to the top. The last section was committing and technical and would have been hard to onsight. After a rest I fired the route second go bringing some longer draws to eliminate some rope drag on this monster pitch.
Lizzy took over the sharp end and we moved to the Great Wall of China. This sprawling wall is home to jugs and easy routes. They have a few four and five star 30 meter 5.9′s and easy 5.10′s. I wanted Lizzy to get some mileage on lead so she ran up one of the 5.9′s onsighting it easily despite the greasy holds and now hot sun. It had be perfect in the shade all day thus far and you just had to wear a jacket when belaying. The heat had us taking our shirts off and wishing the sun would go down. We moved to the shade and I climbed a supposedly five star 10b at the Solarium. The description mentioned pockets and I thought of the sweet 10d we had done in the morning. After a low bolt there was a 30 foot runout on 4th class ledges, if you fell before clipping the second bolt you would hit the ground for sure.
The first section of real climbing was interesting and as the holds disappeared you had to make your way around the arête. The sun was directily in my eyes so I rested on a jug and waited for it to dip below the horizon. A few minutes later, with a bit less glare, I pulled around the arête to be confronted by a bolt and an anchor a few feet higher. I stupidly clipped the bolt and continued up the arête. This bolt was for another route and gave me horrible rope drag for the last crux section. I was tired and the last part was super exposed. I was mentally fried and I had to fight hard to make it through the last slab moves to the anchor. Lizzy followed the climb clean and after I lowered her I rapped off. We did one more 5.9 on the great wall of china and headed out.
One of the great things about climbing in and around Bishop is that the town is very accessible. For hotel types there are all scales of accommodations and all necessities can be found within a short drive of the climbing. Thus we made the short drive into town and had pizza and a stromboli at the Upper Crust. Between slices of pizza we sorted out our last day and chose the Pub wall. Lots of quality routes and a short hike from the gulley decent. Eating out allowed us to get to bed early and catch up on some much needed sleep.
The next morning, shortly after parking, a car drove up with music blasting, a slight glimpse at the drive made me think … Bachar? I had never met the man but knew he was tall and rolled in Acopa shoes. While we couldn’t see this stranger’s face, his Acopa shoes and matching shirt were good clues. Anxious to get climbing we hiked down the gulley and were the first ones at the Pub Wall. We were happy to have the routes to our selves since we had seen quite the crowd the previous day. Our first climb, Abitoffun, was a long 5.9 with 13 bolts. At just over 30 meters it was a blast and a great warm up. After we had both lead it we moved on to the neighboring Abitofrot 10a which, according to the guide book and a fellow who just showed up, was excellent. With only 6 bolts in a similar 20+ meters this was definitely run out. As we had previously found the bolts were in all the right places and you just had to beable to climb confidently on easy terrain with a bolt well below your feet. I offered Lizzy a TR, which she took, and the day was off to a good start. Unfortunely after finishing the route Lizzy informed me that she had managed to tweak her arm and needed to take a bit of a break.
While we were doing these two warm-ups the place had become crowded so we moved around the corner. One of the nice things about Owens is that almost all of the anchors have lower-off’s. Two or three large hooks adorn the top of the route to provide a quick return trip to the ground. The frustrating thing about this is that some people think its ok to Top Rope directly off these anchors. This is in excusable since with a sling and two biners or a pair of quick draws you can easily set up a good anchor.
After our break we did a nice 10c which had distinct cruxes and insecure moves it made me pay attention and felt hard for the grade. After doing this Lizzy wanted a longer break so I hopped on a pair of 11b’s Hammered and Hungover. Hungover started on crimpy vertical rock and continued up to a big ledge and then a roof. The crux was supposed to be pulling this roof but I found the thin moves a couple of bolts higher to be quite tricky. The redpoint crux is holding on at the end with your ever growing pump. I managed the onsight and felt a bit better after strugging to onsight the prior 10c. We broke for lunch and after a nice meal in the sun I got on Hammered. A tricky slab start yielded access to the large ledge that runs across the pub wall. As soon as you step off the ledge the wall kickes back through a series of roofs. The idea is to climb fast and efficiently since the steep jugs quickly sap your energy. The moves were long and it was a good mental challenge to constantly be committing to these moves. In no time I was at the top to finish off my 4th onsight of a five star 11b.
Sometime during or after my climb of Hammered the tall fellow with the Acopa shirt turned up at the Pub Wall. It turned out to be Bachar and he was there to shoot some photos. After having a camera man lead a near by 5.7 John had to wait for a few other climbers to finish on Abitoffun. To Lizzy and my surprise the couple did a few more top rope laps before turing the route over to Mr. Bachar. On our hike out lizzy and I speculated that they must not of known who this guy was since we both would have been too intimidated to keep TRing a 5.9 in front of a legend. John causally soloed Abitofrot and then traversed over and finished on Abitoffun. It was cool to see him in such control and casually talking to the photog about lighting and position. It will be interesting to see if the photos turn up in an Acopa ad in the future.
Lizzy and I finished our day on Hardly Wallbanger a steep crack that had originaly been climbed onsight on gear but had since been bolted. Since this was one of the most popular 10c’s in the gorge it was a bit polished and heavly chalked. It was very fun and I managed to arrive at the anchors only slightly pumped. This was a great last climb for our trip and Lizzy even hopped on it to bid farewell to the gorge. I would certainly like to come back and try some of the harder routes in the future. Our experience showed us how varied the rock can be which encourages us to explore a bit more of the gorge. Over the course of the weekend I climbed over 550 meters of routes, which is over 1600 feet, up to 11c. I managed to onsight four 11b’s all that had five stars. Lizzy climbed over 400 meters of routes and had an impressive TR flash of an 11c. Hopefully this will give us a good base level to improve on in the following weeks.