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Way Lake and Shuteye Rain

California only ever seems to get bigger. Every time I think it’s time to narrow my focus and zone in on a particular locale, style or project, a friend calls me up stoked about an area I’ve never been to – or even heard of. So when Gabe suggested a trip to Way Lake and Hartley Springs, my total ignorance didn’t come as a surprise.

“Cool. Let’s do it. Where the hell is Way Lake?”

Conversations like this are the way most of my summer adventures have started.

Gabe setting up for a toss on Ugly Duckling (V9)

The bouldering at Way Lake near Mammoth will leave you breathless – figuratively and literally at 10,000 feet. For three days we had the serene scene nearly all to ourselves, only running into one other party.

Extra motivation for sending at Way Lake: scenery like this atop the boulders.

One of the most traveled lines is a classic V7 called Crimp Ladder. The long, overhung problem is purely a matter of cranking on perfect edges and sidepulls. The crux comes finding the energy to bear down for the last throw after so much effort.

Gabe reaching for yet another crimp on Crimp Ladder (V7)

Though Gabe nearly flashed the line, for me the problem boiled down to a battle of muscle memory and beta versus fatigue. On what was likely my last quality burn, my feet cut unexpectedly and a self-deprecating monologue flashed into my mouth. But I stored the rant in my walnut jowls, managed to pull back in, got lucky to stick the 97th crimp off a poor foot I had never used before and latched the low side of the last hold with just enough pads to bump it out. It must have been like watching a greased walrus chase a cronut up a waterslide. If enduro crimps are your thing, this problem is for you.

More crimps on Crimp Ladder (Photo: Gabe Doliner)

Though many Way Lake problems emphasize finger strength, a huge variety of movement and technique is tested.

John working another quality Way Lake line (Photo: Gabe Doliner)

One of my favorites was Green Mamba (V7). The 20-foot highball smacks you square in the face with a crux right off a sit start, then requires a cool head to work out the rest of the vertical line. After flailing on the first three moves for the better part of an hour with minimal progress, I miraculously found myself past the crux, surprised and needing to toggle to Zen mode. To set the scale, a scary V4 stand start to the problem is possible by pulling on from across an adjacent boulder, already 10 feet off the ground. By the time I reached the top it felt more like runout Eldo 5.11. Highly recommended.

Sap-soaked Way Lake pine cones

After so many crimps, we hoped to find a different style in the pockets and huecos at Hartley Springs to round out the trip. The scenery at Hartley is an underwhelming dust bowl compared to the ethereal Way Lake, but Gabe zoned in on one of the most fun problems I’ve tried in a long time, Apocalypse Now (V7). After crossing through power underclings on upside down buckets, a throw left and fight through a tough pinch is the ticket to the top.

Gabe tossing for a perfect slot on Apocalypse Now (V7)

Gabe and I knocked out a send train, did a slow motion high five and called it a trip. I’ve been feeling plateaued and as crotchety as a menopausal banshee, but having some success on a number of quality lines in a beautiful new place jolted me out of a holding pattern and donated some confidence for the upcoming (lower altitude) Spring season.

Ben racing the clouds on a Shuteye 5.12

The next weekend it was back to the ropes and another new place, Shuteye Ridge. This time we weren’t so lucky, getting caught in a sudden thunderstorm that alternated between hail and downpour for what seemed like hours. Charissa and I had the best luck, cleaning our route and packing the rope just in time to run to a nearby roof for shelter. Jonathan Guy and Ben weren’t far behind, but Jonathan Williams, Erica, Luke and Lizzy were not as fortunate, getting doused by flash waterfalls tumbling through the runnels on the Lost Eagle formation like Tea Party faithful at a lawn chair giveaway.

Finding shelter from the hail

We bailed…to yet another destination I’d never been – Gold Wall near Sonora. The Gold Wall is like Jailhouse lite without kneebars. It was a great time and an ego boost. In climbing, there are enough sandbags, humbling events and unabashed failures, that when fleeting successes comes along, even in the form of a sugarbag, I’ve learned not to argue.

Drying out

Taking stock of the last month, the climbing fades into the background, but in the forefront remain all the amazing people I’ve met and friends I’ve made. I’m really lucky to have stumbled into such a great group of people. Indeed, California only ever gets bigger.

On a different note, I spent six great years in Boulder and in many ways still consider it a present and possible future home. I have friends and family there who I miss on a daily basis. Seeing photos and video of devastation left in the wake of the flooding is like seeing your old home destroyed. Obviously the human and environmental toll is incredible. A distant concern in comparison is the climbing, access to which has been decimated indefinitely. One of my good friends, Tom, has volunteered as a concrete worker to repair Eldo’s washed out road. Bravo. From the Bay Area climbing community to Boulder, we’re wishing everyone there the best.

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