My long list of California climbing goals just got a lot longer.
Even though he was coming off an illness and had barely eaten in days, led by Luke’s enthusiasm, five of us packed into a Subaru and daytripped to Jailhouse.
In my ignorance I had always thought of Jailhouse as somewhat of a specialized oddity – super overhung, blocky sport climbing full of crazy kneebars, my anti-style. In fact, that description is exactly correct, but what surprised me is how much fun it was and how much better prepared I was for the area than I would have thought.
I was also surprised by how massive the continuous cliff band is and by the stunning landscape.
Looking at the area guidebook, in which 40 routes are crammed into one picture, can easily leave the impression that Jailhouse is a grid bolted product of bored regulars searching for something new. When you’re there, it doesn’t take long to discover the lines are independent, really high quality and well-bolted. Some routes even run an entire rope out to the lip of the cliff creating monster 5.13s and 5.14s.
I got the (mostly) non-kneebar tour of routes that were super steep but not nearly as severe as the wall’s middle section.
We started on the two 5.11+ warmups and moved on to the 5.12 circuit. I knocked out Whipping Boy (5.12b) without too much struggle and that gave me some confidence to try incrementally harder lines. Next was Supreme Being (5.12c). On my onsight attempt I had no chance at the first crux. After flailing for a few more attempts, tail between my legs, I got the thorough spraydown from Luke, the beta reservoir. I pulled back on and followed the step by step instructions like I was making Hamburger Helper. The trickery worked flawlessly and I pulled through with surprising ease. The situation was repeated at the second crux and once again a beta shower got me through. On my second go I sent and learned the first lesson of Jailhouse – there is a right way and often only one right way to do a sequence. Asking for beta is a good way to save yourself too much hangdogging and inefficiency.
James, Sarah and Neil all took spins on the pumpy lines and it was good getting to know some new friends between venturing back to the awesome basalt.
With two successes in my pocket I was fading but wanted to test my mettle on something a little harder. The “slam dunk” dyno on the neighboring 5.12d, Insecurity, sounded inviting and I hopped on. I wound up, launched and latched, my feet cutting in the process. Fun! I misfired to the hidden crimp at the second crux or I may have flashed the line. I tried again after a rest and made it through the slam dunk and the crimp only to pump out on the moves that followed, too tired from the full day but really encouraged. Jailhouse is a perfect place for the intersection of my climbing right now. For the last month, I’ve gotten back on the ropes at the gym and am regaining that elusive endurance. I’m feeling the last 6 months of primarily bouldering paying off with the increased power sticking around. I’m optimistic about the coming season.
Now I need to learn how to kneebar or my future Jailhouse experiences will be laughable…Thanks to Luke, James, Sarah and Neil for the invitation and an awesome day! Something tells me I’ll be back soon.
Finally, Jailhouse is a prime example of the important work the Access fund does to protect our valuable climbing areas. For many years, climbers visited Jailhouse under a cloud of uncertainty. The private land owners could lower the hammer at anytime and close the cliff forever. Because of that, word spread about the location only by whispers. The stout style and pure difficulty of literally every route there dissuades the crowds, but without the easement brokered between the Access Fund and the gracious land owners, the core Bay Area sport climbers could have had their gem buried. If you ever visit Jailhouse, make sure to respect the area, because without you asking, a great deal of work has been done on your behalf.
To become a member of the Access Fund, visit their website here or on the “Neighbors” tab on the left side of this page.