To an outsider looking in, California climbing is a caricature of cathartic meccas: Yosemite big walls, Bishop perfection, and Joshua Tree Joshua trees. But to a local, the cliffs between those cathedrals are just as inspiring. With Tahquitz and Suicide Rock, Black Mountain, Tahoe, the endless shoreline, the Sierras and so much more, lifetimes of climbing await the next stranger in search of a familiar home.
During the last 12 months, I’ve spent my weekends exploring the monuments that don’t often feature in film tours.
Each of these areas tests a different style and version of grit. Though I pride myself on being a solid all around climber, the simultaneous physicality and delicacy demanded by West Coast granite always involves adapting to brute riddles. The crack climbing comes in all shapes and sizes, often in a single pitch, while face lines force illusions of foot holds into reality and require fingers of thick tendon under callous skin to piece together the puzzling edges.
Nowhere are the disparate styles on display more than in Tahoe, where confounding trad climbs mingle among technical bolted testpieces like dirty PBRs among impossibly clean martinis. I’ve spent most of my recent effort trying to figure ways to the chains on many of these characteristic North Lake Tahoe lines. The work has paid off with several memorable sends, including my first 5.12 all gear onsight as well as my hardest all gear redpoint. But the most demanding routes still remain, mocking me into a frenzy of motivation and discontented daydreaming.
But Tahoe is just the middle chapter of an ongoing exploration. Early in the year Kris and I paid a visit to Suicide Rock. The area is known for giving Royal Robbins and company a place to hone their skill before tackling the famous Yosemite big walls. We set our sites on Valhalla, a sparsely bolted 5.11 slab described in the guidebook simply as the historical test one must pass to be accepted into the Stone Masters.
Our modern sticky rubber did not rob the cruxes of their hard souls and seas of thin smears, smedges and deep breaths marked the journeys from one bolt to the next. In the 300 feet from base to summit, there might have been 15 bolts, each one bringing a sigh of relief. Feeling them grow smaller beneath my feet as I pressed upward made each insecure move a battle of will like grudgingly getting out of a cozy warm bed on a cold winter morning.
The sun began it’s decent in concert with our own, but won the race when Kris’s locker jammed shut at the summit anchor. After a futile bloody knuckle session he belayed me back up and I tried my luck at loosening the gate, also to no avail. Fortunately I didn’t have to search far to retrieve an orphan scrap of granite and returned to saw through the sling that kept Kris tied in anchor purgatory and us from cold beer to calm numbed nerves.
The next day we paid a visit to Black Mountain and took advantage of the area’s great new guidebook to get a sampling of the extensive bouldering the spooky peak has to offer.
A highlight was Cracker Boy (V7) tucked away on the summit of the mountain among a hazy forest worthy of the hallowed ground of Hogwarts. The line reminded me of a classic one might find on full display in Camp 4.
Though the bouldering was more than fun, my ankle was not quite ready for the abuse and I walked with a grapefruit limp the next day back in LA.
Fast forwarding to present day, I finally gave bouldering another go with Vlad along the stunning shoreline theater of Fort Ross, north of San Francisco. The area holds a single solitary boulder with a crowd of classic lines. It was a blast, capped with the added fun of sending Living a Nightmare by a desperate thread.
I can’t wait to keep exploring these amazing areas in between the more acclaimed staples. Who wants to go with me?