Who am I? What makes me a climber? What does being a climber mean to me?
Climbing is a large part of my life and it impacts my actions, my thoughts and my dreams. Beyond the flow of movement over rock I am intrigued by the history of this sport. The characters of previous generations paved the way and established the routes that are popular today. Along with this history comes a certain weigh of the past, a necessity to live up to expectations. As climbing has progressed we have continually redefined what is hard, what is possible and what is for the next generation. In this mess of routes, grades and ideas I ponder where I stand. What are my skills and why does any of this matter?
Tahquitz and Suicide rocks were the stomping grounds of the Stone Masters. Old school masters such as John Long, Rick Accomazzo and Mike Graham cut their teeth freeing aid lines and establishing new routes. This place has a bold aura and requires a competent lead head, slab climbing skills and refined jamming technique.
Two weeks ago Lizzy and I made our way to Idyllwild to get our dose of SoCal granite. The summer was ending and the fall trad climbing season was soon to be upon us. The end of September boasts excellent weather at the slightly alpine Tahquitz and Suicide rocks. A strong summer season sport climbing gave me a bit of an incentive to start working on ticking some harder trad routes. High on my list were The Vampire and Insomnia Crack.
Years ago, on my first trip to Idyllwild, I had tried to top rope Insomnia. At the time, laybacking through the thin hands crux, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. Pasting my feet and keeping a tight core to prevent from barn-dooring I barely managed to fall my way up the route. The striking crack still lingered in my mind yet 5.11 no longer seemed so impossible.
The Vampire brought a different vision to my mind. I had only heard stories and read about this classic route. Three amazing pitches each with a tricky yet unique crux. With much encouragement from the San Diego Crew I thought I might be ready. I had a lot of anticipation about trying to onsight this route and worked extra hard at the gym to be ready.
Saturday morning turned out beautifully and Lizzy and I were the first ones to the base of the route. We were familiar with the West Face Bulge after our previous visit to climb Super Pooper. I climbed the easy pitch to the base of the direct start and Lizzy followed up with the pack. The first pitch, called the bat crack, has the most straight in jamming on the route and is a test of endurance. I brought a good number of cams for the 40 meter pitch but ended up wanting different sizes. After getting pumped through the start of the pitch you get rewarded with 20 feet of perfect hands (#2 camalot) before a tricky move at a piton. Next comes a nice rest followed by another hard section getting past a bolt. Unsure of the sequence I up climbed and down climbed this part a few times before committing to a high foot. I was even able to get a sweet knee bar rest between my attempts. After passing the bolt you climb up on jugs and ledges an place a high piece (#3 camalot). You then traverse left to a set of good holds and mantle up to the anchor. I found the mantle to be quite difficult and am sure that I used the wrong sequence. Fortunately I made it and belayed Lizzy up.
The second pitch starts immediately with the crux and eases up with fun climbing on bomber flakes. After many false starts I finally committed to the dime edges, got my foot way left reached the flake and made my way to the jug. I was happy to have the second pitch of the route in the bag and I was able to enjoyed the exposure on the rest of the pitch. Lizzy followed this pitch brilliantly making the traverse without fallingwhich helped lift her spirits after the pumpy first pitch.
The third pitch remained and had foiled many suitors onsight attempts. One of my friends had taken quite the whipper when a cam poped after he made it over the bulge. Of all the pitches I knew the least about this one. I had heard of a reach to a seam and a bad foot hold but I had no idea of a proper sequence. After leaving the belay you romp up these beautiful flakes, clip a bolt, and then traverse right over a bulge. I made my way up the flakes quickly and started examining the features. I saw the seam but could not discern any feet below it. Fortunately there was a good stance to the left of the crux and I stayed their a while checking out my options. I finally found a few foot holds and was able to establish my left hand in the seam. Next I blindly groped around with my right hand for any small feature that would allow me to get my feet up higher. Luckily I found a small crimp, smeared my feet up and made the crux reach into the next pod in the seam.
The lock I found was bomber and I quickly moved my feet up and made the next few moves. There was a random nut lying ON the crack that I quickly moved to my chalk bag. Out came the RP’s and I slotted a bomber #3 in the tiny crack. A few more moves and I was at the undercling!!! I had made the onsight and only 5.9 climbing remained! I kept moving up caucious not to make any wrong moves and linked the 3rd into the 4th pitch. The final moves up the overhang were amazing with jugs appearing just where you needed them. Reaching the top I set up the belay and yelled for Lizzy to climb. At 5′ 5″ Lizzy was a bit short to make the reach into the seam. However once she established herself with the nylon jug she was able to crank the crux move and followed the rest of the pitch clean.
We rapped off with a 70m rope and made our way back to town. We celebrated with a loaf of the local Blueberry Streusel bread, a delicious pastry that we had discovered on our last visit. Tired from the full day we went to bed early so we rise early for a day at Suicide.
Lizzy swears I always take pictures of her putting her shoes on. I must have mis-timed this shot.
Sunday was another gorgeous day with clouds that gave us the occasional shade. The Weeping Wall was our first stop and Lizzy led up Serpentine. This old school slab test-piece is quite heady and technical. Small holds, smears and widely space bolts all packed in to a 5.9 rating. I had lead this climb as my intro to slab climbing 4 years prior and the goal was for Lizzy to do the same. A month off climbing didn’t help with Lizzy’s lead head so I lead the crux 2nd pitch. The ten to fifteen foot run out after the 2nd bolt on the crux section and was a bit beyond what Lizzy wanted to climb. I still managed to get off route and almost slipped traversing back to the anchor. Lizzy lead the last pitch brilliantly and we made our way down to have lunch.
Lizzy scoping the best way to run it out on pitch 1.
After eating we traversed across the top of the buttress of cracks and set up a top rope on Insomnia. A short rope helped extend the anchor over the lip and I put some directionals in on the way down. The climb has three sections. The first is a “5.9″ chimney that goes for about 40 feet and ends with a bit of face climbing. This part is very insecure before you can get a stem off some face holds. Once out of the chimney and onto the face you have two options, start laybacking or get into the crack. Some opt for a combination of the two to get though the crux section.
While I had previously laybacked this part I couldn’t get myself to commit to the slick feet. Instead I jammed my way through the very tight hands (#.75 camalot) and made my way to the ok rest before the final crack. This last section of thin hands slants to the left making it quite pumpy. After a few insecure #1 camalot jams the crack opens up a bit and you get a good face foot. From here you do a few more moves and get a huge jug. A bit of traversing and easy climbing leads to the top.
After doing the crux section clean on TR we decided to head home. We were pretty trashed and I did not have enough steam to give it a go on lead. Hopefully we be back this Friday so I can lead it and get the redpoint. It is some pretty thin jamming at the crux but as long as I relax it will be fine. The gear is bomber and the fall is clean so it will be safe.