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Smoke and Flare

solar burn solar flare hulk

Note: this text was originally published by Adam S. on an earlier version of Climbing House.

Climbing successes give the feeling you can handle anything the rock gods throw at you. But inevitably these moments of triumph are followed by being thoroughly humbled. Sometimes both extremes can happen on the same route. That was the case when Luke and I returned to the Hulk with our eyes on an amazing linkup: Solar Burn (5.12b) to Solar Flare (5.12d).

Check out some images from the route as well as a few of the Yosemite fire, captured over the weekend while climbing Fairview Dome classics in Tuolumne with David.

The Solar Burn to Solar Flare linkup is 8 pitches, including two of 5.10, two of 5.11, and one each of 5.12a, 5.12b, 5.12c and 5.12d. The last three pitches are all 5.12, including the two crux pitches back-to-back.

Helped by Luke’s lead of the Solar Burn crux, I managed to get to the upper pitches of Solar Flare clean – success. That streak ended abruptly on a wild, featureless traverse around a blank corner to begin the crux of Solar Flare. This 5.12c pitch requires balance, core strength and static control, none of which did I have to a sufficient degree for an onsight.

The ante is then upped further on the Peter Croft route as the line tackles a tenuous arete for what seems like miles. After the Solar Burn success I got burned on pitch 8 of Solar Flare. The red Sunspot granite, baking on an uncharacteristic calm, hot day, got the best of me, frying my nerves and and making me dream of cold beer well before arriving at the chains. Watching a young Berkeley climber, Steven Roth, then flash the line made me even more convinced that I should stick to my day job.

Luke and I were sore, tired and ready for a swim in the reservoir by the time we had completed the 5-mile, rock hopping trek back to civilization the next day. But the high altitude adventures were just beginning as the following week David and I made our way around the Yosemite blaze and into Tuolumne Meadows. We had our sights set on a couple 5-star routes, both on Fairview Dome. The Regular Route (5.9) is one of Roper and Steck’s 50 classics and the neighboring line Lucky Streaks (5.10+) is also a must-do.

I have to admit being a bit underwhelmed by the Regular Route. Several of the pitches indeed offer quality climbing, but I may have been expecting a bit too much from one of the enshrined 50 classics. Still, we had a blast and boiled the 12-pitch route down to 9 by linking several pitches into 220 foot rope stretchers.

The Yosemite fire raged in the background. As the day wore on, strong winds from the west pushed smoke across Tuolumne. By the time we got back to our packs, the cloud of smoke had engulfed Fairview and we hiked back to the car through a spooky grey forest.

The next day winds died down and no signs remained of the smoke as clear skies dominated the Tuolumne scene. We had perfect weather for Lucky Streaks and I’m still amazed at the quality of the line. All six pitches were engaging, fun and continuous. The climb as a whole was varied and had a heady crux pitch that made the calves burn from the effort of fiddling in tiny gear from strenuous stances.

Only one thing stands out as being negative, which has nothing to do with the route itself. As David led the fourth pitch another team was busy blitzing past a group on pitch 3. The leader arrived at the base of pitch 4, climbed over my hanging belay, despite my suggestion that she set an anchor below, and proceeded to belay up her partner. Not picking up, or ignoring, the fact that I was thoroughly annoyed, she started making small talk. The conversation went something like this (for clarity I’ll refer to her as Ursala):

Ursala: “Where is the crux?”

Adam: “You just did it.”

Ursala: “Really?! Where was it?”

Adam: “It was through the cracks off the ledge on the last pitch.”

Ursala: “And that was 10d? But it was so easy. I don’t think it was 10d – do you?”

Adam: “I’m glad it was easy for you.”

David: “Watch me here, Adam!”

Adam: “Go for it, David – I’m with you!”

Ursala: “Are you having fun up there?”

David: “Yeah – this is kind of hard for me though.”

Ursala: “You’ve got it! Just think light thoughts. If you think it’s going to be hard, it will be hard. If you think it will be easy, it will be easy. Just use the knobby knobbies. They’re everywhere and are great feet. Trust them and think light thoughts and it will be easy!”

David: “Ummm…OK.”

Without asking to climb through, her partner swung leads and took off, climbing past David who was setting an anchor. As soon as David had me on belay I bolted, running through the pitch in about 5 minutes. At the anchor, I grabbed the rack and kept up the torrid pace, through the underclings and jams of the next pitch, negotiating the other party’s rope and gear, arriving at the base of pitch 6 in about 10 minutes. I didn’t need to do this. I could have hung out at my hanging belay for another spell while he finished and she cleared out, but they pushed every button of my pride, as feeble as it is. My id was covered in spittle and wanted to shake itself dry like a dog who just got sprayed down with a hose after rolling in roadkill skunk.

The morals of the story are,

1. Just ask if you want to climb through. That would have made all the difference.

2. If something feels easy to you, especially on a route with a well-established grade, keep it to yourself. Nobody wants to hear your self-indulgent oratorical masturbation.

3. Difficulty is relative. Never, ever tell somebody leading a challenging pitch that it’s easy if you just have a positive attitude and use all the great holds that are everywhere. It’s more efficient to just say, ‘You suck. And you’re stupid.”

Aside from the shenanigans, along with Oz to the Gram Traverse and Serenity Crack to Sons of Yesterday, Lucky Streaks ranks among the best California 5.10s I’ve done to date. Go climb this route.

Best of luck to the fire crews trying to contain the blaze and to the threatened communities. We’re all hoping for the best.

Thanks to Luke and David for some unforgettable adventures.

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