Sky's the Limit!  Return to Index

Back to Season 1 (2008)

For Glossary of Terms and Ratings Information, Click Here

Season 2 (2009): Pushing It Too Far...

Starting the Season in Josh

At the end of 2008 I decided to take a few months off from climbing in order to rest my finger tendons and enjoy the holidays. I have also learned from weightlifting that after a steady run of anaerobic activity, the body will typically respond well to a prolonged break. This is sometimes called cycling in lifting. Anyway, I didn't start climbing consistently again until mid February. During my time off I took the opportunity to flesh out my trad rack for the coming season. I purchased several more cams, and even a new Mammut 60m rope. Here's Rafaela chilling after helping me organize all of my gear:

The first few trips to Joshua Tree were with a group of relative newbies, so we spent most of our time at Trashcan Rock and on relatively easy routes. Here's a picture of Trashcan Rock, the place where I learned to Trad Climb:

Here's a picture of Jared climbing the classic learning crack B3 at Trashcan, and me leading the Eye on Cyclops Rock, both 5.3's:


After leading the Eye (on which I think I placed 3 pieces for all 120 feet), I belayed the others from the center of the 'Eye' of the formation:

Playhouse Rock

After this first trip we started visiting areas with more moderate routes. The first such spot was called Playhouse Rock, and it's a convenient crag located near the road in the Hemingway area. Here's a picture of the formation:

The routes that we climbed at this formation included Final Act (5.6), I'm So Embarrassed For You (5.7), Stucca By a Yucca (5.7), Dress Rehearsal (5.7), Beck's Bear (5.7), and Psycho Groove (5.9). My favorites were Psycho Groove and Dress Rehearsal, although I did not lead Psycho Groove. Here's a picture of me belaying Jared up on Final Act:

And here's me leading Beck's Bear, a route that I felt was overrated:

Lost Horse Valley

On the next few trips to Joshua Tree we concentrated on climbing in the Lost Horse area, especially Hemingway Buttress, Atlantis Wall, Dairy Queen Wall, and Rock Garden Valley. There are a large concentration of moderate classics in this area, and we sampled many of them. Here's a picture of the center of Hemingway Buttress:

The two major cracks in this photo include Dung Fu (5.7), with the chimney at the top, and White Lightning (5.7). The face between them is the classic Poodles are People Too. White Lightning was the first route that I led on this buttress. Here's a picture of me belaying Raf up after the send:

Later, we climbed Poodles are People Too on top-rope and it was absolutely the best climb I'd ever done in my life. It's a highly varied route with finger-locks on a thin, steep face down low and interesting slab moves to bypass a couple overlaps up top. Unfortunately we didn't get any pictures of folks climbing it.

The next area where we spent a lot of time was the Atlantis Wall. One of the nicer cracks on this cliff is called Vorpal Sword (5.9). Here's a picture of Rafaela climbing it:

Another great route in this area is called Minotaur (5.7). Here's Jared finding Jams about halfway up this route:

My favorite route in this area is called Galumphing (5.10), and it's a thin, balancy route that ascends the cliff via an improbable series of crimps. Here's a picture of the route (it's between the two obvious cracks):

The crack on the left is Vorpal Sword, mentioned earlier.

The third area in Lost Horse Valley that we spent a lot of time at is called Dairy Queen Wall. It's actually near Hemingway, but further left and a bit harder to reach, requiring a scramble. The wall is very tall and steep but has many pocketed features, making it really popular for beginners. Here's a look at the left-end of the wall, featuring the classic moderates Scrumdillyishus (5.7) and Frosty Cone (5.7):

Here's a picture of me starting the lead of Scrumdillyishus, belayed by Rafaela:

Another route in this area that sees a lot of traffic is the left-leaning crack called Mr. Misty Kiss (5.7):

We probably climbed at Dairy Queen three times over the course of the season. Sometimes it got a bit crowded up there, but generally we got the routes in that we wanted.

The final spot that we visited a couple times was Rock Garden Valley. It takes about a half-hour of rock scrambling to reach this area, but the number of hard moderates makes it very worthwhile. At some point in the season, my first 5.9 traditional lead occurred here, on a route called Euthyphro (5.9). On our first visit, we stopped at the Swiss Cheese Wall, which is about halfway up Rock Garden Valley. This small, pocketed wall has two moderate routes on it that we top-roped. Here's a shot of James climbing the right route, The Treat (5.7):

Further up the valley, I led a really fun crack called Rock-a-Lot (5.7). Here's a picture of me getting ready to start it. The crack is directly above my orange helmet:

After I led this route, I setup a top-rope anchor on the classic face next door, Rock Candy (5.9). This is one of my all-time favorite routes in Joshua Tree, featuring tough moves up a steep, thin seem and then cryptic face moves up above to the anchors. Here's a great picture of the route taken by Loveness:

It's pretty amazing that this goes at 5.9, huh? In addition to these routes, I also led two high-quality 5.8's in this area: Smithereens (5.8) and Young Lust (5.8+). I found both of them to be pretty easy, despite how steep they were. Another quality route in the area that I led was a left-leaning crack called Double Dogleg (5.7).

Overall, my experiences in Lost Horse allowed me to break into the upper ranges of the moderate grades, and I finally became comfortable on 5.8's and even some 5.9's.

Outer Mongolia

On one of the more adventurous days in Joshua Tree, we decided to hike two hours to a place in the Wonderland of Rocks called Outer Mongolia. Here's a picture of the crag:

The area featured some of the only bolted lines in Joshua Tree, most of them leading up the left-leaning buttresses in the center of the photo. We encountered a rattlesnake on our way to the crag that I nearly stepped on and never saw, haha. The routes that we ended up climbing were George's Route (5.8), Gandy (5.9), Yasmine Bleeth (5.9), and Dos Chi Chis (5.10a). We didn't capture many pics from this excursion, but here's a shot looking down George's Route:

And here's a shot from the same vantage point of the surrounding area in the Wonderland of Rocks:

The climbing turned out to be really different than much of what we were used to in Josh. The routes were long face climbs on massive slabs. They required good balance and crimp strength. Oddly, toward the end of the day, we noticed a lot of smoke coming from somewhere over near Lost Horse Valley. At the time, we didn't think much of it, but it turned out to be a major event for Joshua Tree (see news article here). The next year Jared and I did the hike to the Lost Horse Mine, and pretty much the entire hike was through the burned out area. Incredible.

Before the spring season at Joshua Tree ended, Rafaela and I returned one last time to send my first hard multi-pitch in the park, Bird on a Wire (5.10a) which is located on the 300-foot tall Lost Horse Wall. The route was three pitches the way we did it, with the middle pitch being about 180 feet long. It was an incredible route, with lots of different climbing styles combined. I felt it wasn't quite as hard as a 5.10a, but this didn't detract from the experience. Here's a picture of the route, with green X's where we belayed mid-route:

Overall, this had been the best spring yet at Joshua Tree, but as summer approached, with the warmer temperatures, the desert became unbearably hot, and we needed to look elsewhere for routes.

Update at the Arc

At the Arc I began making some good progress as well. Ivan had moved back to Reunion for several months so I branched out and met more of my fellow climbers at the gym. Some of them were climbing pretty hard and, before long, V5 was no longer a rarity for me. Rafaela was also making strides in her climbing. Here's her sending a really awesome V2 that she worked on for some time:

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the routes I was working at the time, but I've got a couple random pics of other routes. Here's me on my regular campus roof wind-down at the end of the day:

And here's me on a slabby route of unknown difficulty:

Sometime before Ivan returned in the summer I sent my first V6 and then proceeded to send a few others once he returned. In the meantime I started focusing more on diet and started shedding a few pounds. This also seemed to improve my climbing significantly. My highlight for the year at the arc was sending an awesome V7- that catered to most of my strengths.

Sport Climbing @ Riverside Rock Quarry

In the late Summer we started doing a lot more sport climbing at the quarry. It was a far more convenient climbing spot than Joshua Tree, although the scenery wasn't nearly as nice. One great thing about it, though, was the relative safety of the routes, which allowed us to push into higher grade territory. Before long, Ivan and I were attemping onsight 5.12a's and I even sent one that was rated 5.12a/b on my first try. We tried to make it to the quarry every other weekend or so for a few months while daylight persisted. Here's a picture of the quarry itself:

As you can see, it looks pretty nice from a distance. Once you get a bit closer, however, you realize that it's located in a pretty dirty area, with lots of debris and graffiti, even on the rocks. This doesn't detract from the quality of the climbing, but it also doesn't present a feeling as if you're out in nature. People that I've climbed with at the Quarry include Ivan, Rafaela, Brian Luther, Adam, Colin, Ronen, Ryan, and others. Here's Ivan and I relaxing between climbs:

The routes at the quary are long and typically hard, with very few routes in the 5.10 range and below. Here's a random climber tackling a 5.12 called Balrog:

As you can see, the top of the Quarry is a long way up, and there are many large features, like that huge roof, that can make things interesting. The rock is really solid granite, however, and the holds are easy on the hands, unlike Joshua Tree, allowing for long climbing sessions. Here's a picture of Ivan attempting a small roof on a challenging 5.11:

Over the course of the summer and fall we probably climbed between five and ten times at the quarry. If I had been able to, I would have spent a lot of time there the next year as well...

Back in Joshua Tree

Late in 2009, Colin, Brian Luther, Ivan, Rafaela and I decided to head out to Joshua Tree for one last trip of the year. This was Ivan's first time climbing in the park other than our mishap from the previous year. I was excited to have him along, and many of us were climbing at our strongest level ever. We did some climbing at Trashcan to get Ivan acquainted with leading Trad. Next, we went to the Atlantis Wall. Ivan and I cruised most of the moderate stuff that day, but then we decided to setup a top-rope for the blank face to the right of Grain Surplus. Neither Mountain Project nor the Guidebook list a route at this location, so we figured it would not be easy. It turned out to be an incredibly delicate slab climb. Here's Ivan working out the cryptic moves mid-climb:

I somehow managed to flash the route after watching Ivan on it. At the hardest spot I have no idea what was keeping me on the wall. It was basically a prayer. I would guess that the difficulty would have been approximately 5.11- slab, perhaps solid 5.11. After Atlantis, we went to Hemingway where I climbed Dung Fu (5.7) and Feltonian Physics (5.8). Both climbs were decent but not particularly remarkable. We also took turns top-roping Poodles Are People Too, which was awesome as always. On Sunday evening everyone left but me, and my long-time friend Ronen who was visiting his parents (who live in Orange County) met up with me just outside the park. We returned to the campsite and talked over my idea of climbing Right On (5.7) which is the longest route in all of Joshua Tree at 4-pitches and almost 400 feet. Originally I was really excited about getting on the climb, but the super-runout slab at the bottom was spooking me and I wasn't sure I could go through with it. In fact, I don't think we would have done it if it weren't for Ronen's enthusiasm. Thanks to his excitement we made the decision to go for it.

 The following morning we arrived at the base of the route at approximately 8am and there was nobody around. We stashed our unneeded gear under a boulder and started up toward the beginning of the route. For reference, here is a picture of the climb that I've marked up:

To get to the start you had to do some third class scrambling up a few granite ramps. At the start there was not a great platform for the belayer, and you were already thirty feet off the ground. This scramble is marked in red and where the route starts is where the green is. The short crack at the start takes a small cam and a decent midsize nut. At that point though, there's a 40 foot slab between you and the next crack and there's only one bolt in the center of it! This was the part that had worried me. Getting to the bolt took me into pretty run-out territory, where a fall would certainly have resulted in broken ankles at least. Fortunately, I made it and clipped the bolt. At this point I breathed a sigh of relief, but then I realized that I had another 20 feet to go before I reached the crack!!! In the end, the section between the bolt and the crack was the hairiest. The difficulty to the bolt had maybe eclipsed 5.5 at one point, and was generally very easy. The section past the bolt was very thin, and I would say the move to gain the rail before the crack, when you're 10 feet runout, was not terribly easy. I spent five minutes psyching myself up for the move before I did it. A fall at this point again would have been very nasty. I read of someone on Mountain Project broke their leg falling here... When I finally went for it, I was fine. After making it to the crack, I was ecstatic, and I easily cruised the short crack section before the optional first belay. Since we didn't realize that the second pitch was so short, I belayed Ronen up from here, even though it wasn't a terribly comfortable belay.

 Ronen actually fell once on the slab between the bolt and the crack, in the section where I rested. After he arrived at the belay we had our first belay change. Since Ronen had never done a multi-pitch before, I had to explain the mechanics of a belay change and this took awhile. Before long I started up the hand crack in the corner. The crack was really smooth and it felt incredible to jam without tape. We had already been on the wall for almost an hour by the time I reached the belay, and I was not enthused to see that the next belay ledge was completely in the shade. I knew I would be cold, but at least there was plenty of space for standing and a couple bolts in the wall, eliminating the need to waste gear on an anchor. Once Ronen had taken care of the hand crack, we switched again and I started off on the third pitch, which was to be by far the longest pitch of the route, and also the most varied.

 To begin you had to get physical in a squeeze chimney. The chimney was slick from the hundreds of people who'd climbed the route before us. I was also getting really cold and this added to the difficulty. Finally, protection was extremely rare in the chimney and I had to treat every potential fall as serious. Fortunately, I am very good at stemming and other chimney techniques, and I also managed to sling a few rock protrusions (called 'chicken heads') which made me feel slightly safer. Eventually I completed the chimney and managed to get a cam into a small crack on the left-hand side. After this, I had to traverse to the right via an undercling flake that was wicked cool. After this section I started up another crack system toward the top of the formation. I was able to make it about halfway up the crack system before I began to run out of rope. I could no longer hear Ronen since he was about 200 feet further down by this point. I only had about five pieces left but I managed to create a pretty bomber anchor and I started belaying Ronen up. Ronen did a great job cleaning the third pitch and before too long he joined me in my small perch. Switching belays here was tough because we didn't have a lot of room. It took about ten minutes but once again I was off, and this time to finish the whole climb.

 The fourth pitch was really spicy and provided both a transition into the sun as well as the first real exposure of the route. I started by finishing the crack system from the third pitch and then tenuously traversing to the left onto the face. I was able to put three equalized cams into a horizontal crack about 30 feet from the top, but from that point on, there was no more gear. The climbing was pretty easy at this point, mostly pulling on knobs and scoops in the rock, but there was also a 300 foot drop to think about. I had become much more comfortable with the potential falls and I cruised this section pretty easily, although I was concentrating on every move. Once I reached the top and saw the belay bolts, I knew that I had finished the climb. I didn't celebrate yet, however, since climbing is really all about the team, and I wanted Ronen up there with me to enjoy it. I quickly setup an extended anchor off the two bolts so that I could stand close to the edge and watch Ronen as he finished up. As Ronen completed the traverse and started up the final slab, I kept encouraging him to turn around and look down but he was too scared to do it. From above it looked like a straight drop below him, of over 350 feet. He cruised the final section without any trouble and we spent about 15 minutes together on the summit enjoying the view. Another couple people were starting the climb far down below, but we had plenty of time before they would reach the top. In all, the climb had taken us over four hours and we had two hours to return to the car to leave on time.

 The way down involved two rappels, and we accidentally trashed my rope on one of them. Fortunately, we were still able to make it down to the ground and return to the base of the climb. By the time we reached the car the sun was starting to set and I still remember looking up at the climb with Ronen and remarking how amazing it was that we climbed the whole formation that day. As my first real multi-pitch route, I was very glad that it went so smoothly. In fact, I had an absolute blast and was looking forward to more multi-pitch climbs at Tahquitz rock in Idyllwild. Unfortunately, there were problems that prevented me from ever going to Tahquitz, but we'll get into that in the next section...

Issues at the Arc

As the season progressed, I feel that I was not giving my body enough rest. Climbing at the V5-V7 level was taking its toll, and I didn't realize that my relatively newbie tendons and ligaments were unable to take the strain for so long. Eventually I developed some pain in my shoulders that I attributed to my love of widely-spaced slopers and volume holds. As if this wasn't enough, I also suffered an acute finger injury on a roof V5. Basically, I put three fingers into a pocket and took an unexpected fall. I couldn't get my fingers out quickly and something snapped, causing pain to shoot up my arm. The pain subsided over a few days and I continued to climb. However, as the months wore on, it became clear that something was still wrong inside my finger, and in late October, due to both the shoulders and my finger issues, I decided to stop climbing and rest my injuries. I was very upset about having suffered these setbacks, but I expected that my body would heal within a few months, and figured that resting for the Winter made sense anyway.

 Return to Index

 Forward to Non-Season 3